BASES emergency barricades placed at Aamjiwnaang First Nation. May 3, 2024 Blackburn Media photo by Melanie IrwinBASES emergency barricades placed at Aamjiwnaang First Nation. May 3, 2024 Blackburn Media photo by Melanie Irwin

Conversations ongoing about 'what can be done better,' says BASES GM

The general manager of Bluewater Association for Safety, Environment and Sustainability (BASES) says conversations are always ongoing about "what can be done better."

Jason Vaillant was a guest speaker at the Kiwanis Club of Sarnia-Lambton Golden K meeting on Tuesday, May 14.

He said BASES wants to be "seen as an industry partner" as they work to strengthen communications, emergency preparedness, and incident response.

"Community engagement is an ongoing thing," Vaillant said. "We can't take our foot off the pedal when it comes to making sure that our community and broader stakeholders understand what's happening within industry and that level of engagement to have an ongoing conversation about what can be done better."

The Sarnia-Lambton Environmental Association (SLEA), Community Awareness Emergency Response (CAER), and Industrial Education Co-operative (IEC) dissolved on January 1, 2024, and consolidated into BASES.

Vaillant explained the new direction and fielded questions from the membership.

One individual asked him to explain why there was a discrepancy between benzene emission levels recently recorded at Aamjiwnaang First Nation and INEOS Styrolution's Tashmoo Avenue facility.

Vaillant said they're working to get a standard measurement.

"That's a discussion that we need to have with the MECP (Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks) as the regulator, to understand what numbers should be published and what frames and parameters should be put on the information that's shared through the website. So that's an ongoing conversation that we need to have," he said.

Vaillant said they continue to focus on their collaboration with municipalities, Aamjiwnaang First Nation, regulators, government representatives, community partners, and local residents.

However, the effectiveness of the BASES notification process — Sarnia-Lambton Alerts — was questioned by members of Aamjiwnaang First Nation after employees in the band office area reported feeling sick on April 16.

The First Nation notified community members about high benzene levels through its own reporting system, but there was no notification sent through Sarnia-Lambton Alerts.

Vaillant said BASES manages Sarnia-Lambton Alerts, but member companies are responsible for sending out the notifications to inform the public.

"Our job is to make sure that those tools are in place and that they're in good working order and ready to be used when needed," he said. "Direct contact with the public is really the responsibility of the member companies."

Vaillant confirmed INEOS is a member of BASES and was at the beginning of April.

He said BASES has been very focused on the environmental monitoring stations placed at Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

"Making sure that data is up to date and available," said Vaillant. "We're also focused on the notification system that our members use in the event that they need to share information with the community. So, making sure those systems and processes are in place and in good working order to be used."

Vaillant agreed the recent incident serves as a reminder for continued education, awareness and proper communication.

"We learn from every incident and situation and that's an ongoing effort for us to look for ways to better engage with the community and the stakeholders and make sure that there's clear understanding on all sides," he said.

Vaillant said they've been in contact with Aamjiwnaang band members.

"We have not talked to the Chief directly, but we have been in contact — at the outset of this incident — with the emergency coordinator for Aamjiwnaang, as well as a councillor, to make sure that there was an understanding of the monitoring process in place," said Vaillant.

BASES General Manager Jason Vaillant. May 14, 2024 Blackburn Media photo by Melanie IrwinBASES General Manager Jason Vaillant. May 14, 2024 Blackburn Media photo by Melanie Irwin

Sarnia-Lambton Alerts currently has 16,000 subscribers, which Vaillant said they're "looking to grow."

"We're promoting that service through our social media channels as well as on our website — there's a new website called — and we're also attending community events to get out in front of people and talk to them about what this notification service can do for them," he said.

Meanwhile, Aamjiwnaang has issued a Notice of Violation against INEOS Styrolution and the Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks [MECP] seeking immediate remediation of benzene emissions.

Scott Grant, an air pollution control engineer with C&S Grant Environmental Consulting said the Notice of Violation identifies the failures of the environmental regulators to protect the air quality at Aamjiwnaang.

MECP suspended INEOS' Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) on May 2.

INEOS said afterward it may appeal the decision.

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