UN report identifies Aamjiwnaang First Nation as a pollution “sacrifice zone” in Canada

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Facebook photo of Aamjiwnaang water protector Vanessa Gray.

On March 10, The Guardian reported: “A United Nations expert has warned [in this report] of the creation of pollution “sacrifice zones” across the world, where tens of millions of people are suffering strokes, cancers, respiratory problems and heart disease as a result of toxic contamination of the environment.”

David Boyd, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, says: “There are sacrifice zones all over the world, in every region: in the north, in the south, in the east, in the west, in rich countries, in poor countries.”

In a 43-0 vote on October 8, 2021—with just China, India, Japan, and Russia abstaining—the Human Rights Council formally recognized the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (Resolution 48/13).

Boyd’s report points to over 60 sacrifice zones around the world, including the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

On page 10, point 43, the report states:

“One of the most notorious pollution hotspots in Canada – “Chemical Valley”, in Sarnia, Ontario – has disturbing health effects on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation. There are more than 40 large petrochemical, polymer, oil-refining and chemical facilities in close proximity to Aamjiwnaang, as well as a coal-fired power plant. This Indigenous community endures some of the worst air quality in Canada. Physical and psychological health problems are common, including high rates of miscarriages, childhood asthma, and cancer.”

Other reports

In October 2016, the Montreal Gazette reported: “[A study by McGill health science professor Niladri Basu] found women in the Aamjiwnaang First Nation are exposed to higher-than-average levels of hormone-blocking toxins. It hints there may be a link between this and the unusually low male birth rate on the Chippewa reserve.”

That article adds: “Health surveys conducted in the community also found high rates of asthma, chronic headaches and miscarriages in Aamjiwnaang. About 40 per cent of adults on the reserve use an asthma inhaler, according to the 2006 survey.”

And notably in June 2019, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak stated: “The condition of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia is deeply unsettling.”

Tuncak adds: “Deeply connected with their land, residents on the reservation are now surrounded on three sides by over 60 industrial facilities that create the physiological and mental stress among community members regarding the risk of impending explosions or other disasters, as well as a wide variety of health impacts from unquestionably poisonous chronic exposures.”

Water protector Vanessa Gray

The Toronto Star has reported that Anishinaabe land defender and water protector Vanessa Gray grew up adjacent to Chemical Valley, “which houses over 40 per cent of Canada’s petrochemical industry (that’s over 60 plants in a 25-kilometre radius).”

She has commented: “I was born into a place called the “Chemical Valley” where there are 60 high-emitting facilities in a very small area surrounding my community. I grew up with companies like Shell and Suncor and Imperial Oil and Enbridge always spilling and releasing [chemicals] without [my] knowledge of why.”

In 2019, Gray co-led the launch of the University of Toronto-based The Land and the Refinery research project, that includes the Pollution Reporter mobile app.

The Sarnia Observer has explained: “The new app catalogues 70 chemicals emitted by Imperial Oil, self-reported by the refinery via the federal National Pollutant Release Inventory. It connects those with known health harms based on peer-reviewed medical literature. The app also gives users an easier way to report incidents to Ontario’s Environment Ministry.”

Last month, the Toronto Star reported that Gray “has been arrested twice in her work as a land protector” most recently in December 2021 for “her alleged involvement in a solidarity action supporting land protectors on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, who were the subject of a high-profile RCMP raid the month before.”

For more on that, please see – Solidarity Statement: From Wet’suwet’en to Tkaronto We Demand an End to the Criminalization of Indigenous Land Defenders.

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