Aamjiwnaang First Nation. November 15, 2018. (Photo by Colin Gowdy, BlackburnNews)Aamjiwnaang First Nation. November 15, 2018. (Photo by Colin Gowdy, BlackburnNews)

'We're not coming to work until this is corrected,' says Aamjiwnaang Chief

The Chief of Aamjiwnaang says a Provincial Officer Order has been issued to INEOS Styrolution after elevated benzene levels were detected at the First Nation earlier this week.

Chris Plain told Sarnia News Today the 34-page legal document, which sets out obligations for the operation, was received late Thursday and was to be reviewed by Band Council Friday afternoon.

"We haven't had an opportunity to review it in depth, so we're going to do that today and share it with our legal [team] and we'll go from there and see if it meets all of our needs," said Plain.

Chief Plain, who called on federal, provincial and municipal governments to immediately impose a shutdown of the Tashmoo Avenue facility to remediate any issues, said although needed repairs and a timeline to complete the work was outlined, he's not satisfied by the order.

"No. Simply because it allows them to continue what has been happening up until next week and that doesn't satisfy the community members. It doesn't affect their exposure immediately. So, we're still not going to be coming to work until this is corrected," he said.

Plain previously told Sarnia News Today about 150 staff were impacted when extremely high levels of benzene were documented in the Band Office area, resulting in workers being sent home on Tuesday.

Employees complained of headaches, nausea and dizziness, and despite the high readings there was no notification sent through Sarnia-Lambton Alerts.

Buildings in the Band Office area have been closed since, with staff working from home if they can, and the First Nation closed its daycare and school as an additional precaution.

Chief Plain told Sarnia News Today he's not confident the company will comply with the order.

"So, we're going to have to see what's different in this one, [compared to] what's been ordered to them before because they've been known to not comply with previous orders," he said.

Community members have been reminded daily to keep windows closed and avoid the baseball diamond and playground areas.

Ontario's Indigenous Relations Critic Sol Mamakwa spoke with Sarnia News Today on Thursday and called the situation "deeply troubling" and questioned the Ford government's response.

Ontario Environment Minister Andrea Khanjin told Sarnia News Today she has talked with representatives from INEOS and made clear their government’s expectation that they quickly identify and reduce these emissions.

When contacted by Sarnia News Today, INEOS Styrolution said, "We understand the concerns raised by our neighbours, including the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community, regarding benzene readings from a local station. We are carefully reviewing this data and any concerns. The site works closely with the MECP (Ministry of Conservation, Environment and Parks) to ensure we stay within the prescribed emissions limits."

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