Aamjiwnaang First Nation residents in Ontario have learned that cancer-causing chemicals in their air are 44 times higher than recommended levels. The revelation came after years of fighting with officials to obtain data on water and air pollution levels. Aamjiwnaang First Nation is a small region in Ontario surrounded by petrochemical facilities.

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For years, the First Nation community suspected that the petrochemical companies were exposing them to dangerous pollutants. However, lack of access to data from previous investigations denied them the opportunity to know the truth.

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Global News obtained the recent data via freedom of information laws. The data revealed that the levels of benzene and sulfur dioxide were far higher than recommended. The revelation means that the government knew these carcinogenic compounds were present in both water and air but withheld the information. 

In 2019, the U.N. special rapporteur on toxic chemicals, Baskut Tuncak, visited Aamjiwnaang and expressed concerns over the proximity of the affected areas to the intense petrochemical industries. Speaking to The Guardian, Tuncak said, “I was struck by the incredible proximity of the affected First Nation to dozens of intense chemical production and processing facilities, which resulted in incredible releases of pollution and waste affecting the [residents’] health.”

There has been a public outcry in Canada over the government’s handling of this crucial data. A bill meant to address environmental racism was recently shot down in a snap election, making the fight for the right to information an even more difficult battle to win. The bill would have required the federal government to collect data on areas where environmental hazards happen near pulp mills, dumps and mines, then determine their link with the disasters. Further, the bill would have required the government to compensate those affected by pollution from these industries.

Although Canada still lags in terms of laws to protect the public from pollution, various jurisdictions have been taking steps toward clear policies. For instance, Ontario has proposed new laws to strengthen the emission caps and connect First Nations to crucial environmental data.

Via The Guardian

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