Ontario creates new rules on benzene pollution aimed at Sarnia company

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TORONTO – Ontario has created new rules specifically for a Sarnia plastics plant to try to ensure it stops emitting high levels of benzene that have affected a neighbouring First Nation for years.

The province has issued four orders to Ineos Styrolution since 2019, recently temporarily shut down the facility and added new conditions to its licence that it must meet before it restarts operations, but the government says benzene levels remain elevated.

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The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks says it is very concerned about elevated levels of benzene recorded around the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, which is across the road from Ineos.

Benzene can cause neurological symptoms such as dizziness and headaches following short-term exposures, and can cause cancers such as leukemia after long-term exposures.

The ministry now says one-hour average concentrations in the air shouldn’t exceed 90 micrograms per cubic metre, but this spring there have been several readings over that level at Aamjiwnaang monitors, including one instance of more than double that level.

Ineos has not yet responded to the province’s latest move, but did issue a statement over the weekend warning that it would need more time to comply with new rules the federal government recently implemented that were aimed at the company.

Aamjiwnaang officials called for the Ineos plant to be shut down April 16 when monitors detected benzene spikes and community members reported headaches, nausea and dizziness. The plant produces styrene that is used to make plastic and rubber products.

Aamjiwnaang has declared a state of emergency due to what officials have described as “ongoing and excessive” discharges of benzene.

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  1. Five buildings on Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia were closed for the second day in a row on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, after community members reported headaches, nausea and dizziness on that officials attributed to high benzene levels. (Sarnia Observer file photo)

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  2. The Ineos Styrolution site along Churchill Line near Tashmoo Avenue in Sarnia is shown. (Postmedia photo)

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