The Toxic Tour – A Photo Essay

By Harshita Singh

From August 19th to the 21st, organizers from Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines (ASAP) held their annual Toxic Tour. Buses were organized by allies and ASAP to come from Waterloo, Toronto, London and other locations. The weekend was free, and ASAP invited people to attend a Water Gathering, educational workshops and a tour of the factories surrounding and overlapping the Aamjiwnaang reserve. Attendees also learned about legal battles that some of the organizers were facing as a result of environmental racism and settler colonialism, including ASAP, Riz UP Detroit, Enbridge 9 Pipeline and the unceded territory of Walpole Island First Nation.

Below are some photos by Basics journalists Nooria Alam, Saeed Mohamed and Harshita Singh from the Toxic Tour on the afternoon of Sunday, August 21st 2016.

 

Imperial Oil was the first company to exploit the resources on the Aamjiwnaang Reserve and Sarnia.

Imperial Oil was the first company to exploit the resources on the Aamjiwnaang Reserve and Sarnia.

 

While Imperial Oil has been extracting oil from Sarnia and the Aamjiwnaang Reserve since 1880, the band office for Aamjiwnaang First Nations was not built till 1980. In 2016, more than 60 different companies have filled the area with oil refineries, rubber manufacturing plants, unlabelled drums and pipelines. According to a 2007 report by the Canadian environmental group Ecojustice, approximately 40 per cent of Canada’s petrochemical industry are located here.

Chemicals reported to have been released in the area include benzene (for which there is no safe level of human consumption), soot, asbestos, warm water discharge and sulfur. In spite of the cancer rates being higher in this region than other parts of Ontario, there are no cancer clinics in Sarnia. Concerned residents must go to London or Windsor to be checked. Statistics are also taken across the region so all effects on the frontline community are not clearly identifiable. “We are treated like their guinea pigs”,  said Lindsay Gray, an Aamjiwnaang-Sarnia Against Pipelines organizer (ASAP) and tour guide, “they often do not even know the impact there will be on the health on the people living closest to the industrial site”.

 

Chain link fences are often all that separates the residents in this area from the toxins invading the land, atmosphere and water. Much of the equipment on the plants has been in use since the companies initially set up here.

Chain link fences are often all that separates the residents in this area from the toxins invading the land, atmosphere and water. Much of the equipment on the plants has been in use since the companies initially set up here.

 

Certain plants have been proven to be illegally built on native land, including the steelworker company. The 800 indigenous people on the Aamjiwnaang are disproportionately affected by the dangers presented by Enbridge, Suncor, Imperial Oil, Trans Alta, Cabot (headquarters in the United States), Toda Advanced Materials (a Japanese subsidiary), Praxair Canada and many more companies that constantly change both their names and excuses. The companies are owned by imperialists in countries all over the world, and work together to maintain authority and secrecy on the land. Usually it is a community member, not the company that released the chemicals, that alert people when there is a spill.

Often, spills are discovered by accident, and so have their immediate impact on those who “discover” them. “I just had to accept that my sense of smell is not going to be the same again”, said Lindsay, after telling the group about accidentally coming across an oil spill while trying to take a picture of the full moon one night.

Indigenous members of the community through “body mapping” have identified a 30% chance of miscarriage and a significant reduction in male birth rate, as well as high rate of respiratory illnesses, especially among children.

 

The photos above were taken where an Aamjiwnaang daycare used to be, located right across from the factories and unlabelled drums. Many children would have to line up to take a puff for their asthma every morning, without it being explained that oil spills from across the road had caused their respiratory condition. The daycare is now located in the centre of the reserve, and the blue building is used by an Aamjiwnaang administrative body.

Aamjiwnaang daycare used to be located here, right across from the factories and unlabelled drums. Many children would have to line up to take a puff for their asthma every morning, without it being explained that oil spills from across the road had caused their respiratory condition. The daycare is now located in the centre of the reserve, and the blue building is used by an Aamjiwnaang administrative body.

 

Responsible Care, a campaign of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, is an attempt by the companies that are the main producers of the toxins in Sarnia and Aamjiwnaang to rebrand the impact of their pollution and make it appear as if they are committed to sustainability.

Responsible Care, a campaign of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, is an attempt by the companies that are the main producers of the toxins in Sarnia and Aamjiwnaang to rebrand the impact of their pollution and make it appear as if they are committed to sustainability.

 

The Welland Chemical Ltd. was abandoned because of the danger it posed to those who worked there. Above, we see toxic trash spilling out of the building, continuing to poison the water and atmosphere, but also threatening fines to those others who may wish to dump here.

The Welland Chemical Ltd. was abandoned because of the danger it posed to those who worked there. Above, we see toxic trash spilling out of the building, continuing to poison the water and atmosphere, but also threatening fines to those others who may wish to dump here.

 

Factory workers of the Blue Water settlement were resettled in Sarnia in 1942. While settlers are memorialized, people of Aamjiwnaang nation who continue to be immediately impacted are unnamed, and their protest repressed.

Factory workers of the Blue Water settlement were resettled in Sarnia in 1942. While settlers are memorialized, people of Aamjiwnaang nation who continue to be immediately impacted are unnamed, and their protest repressed.

 

“The water is hurting”, said Vanessa, an organizer with ASAP.

“The water is hurting”, said Vanessa, an organizer with ASAP.

 

This man-made pond, like others in the area, contains mercury. It is dangerous to walk closer than several metres away from the perimeter of the pond as coming in contact with the water could be poisonous.

This man-made pond, like others in the area, contains mercury. It is dangerous to walk closer than several metres away from the perimeter of the pond as coming in contact with the water could be poisonous.

 

To read more about ASAP actions, future tours and updates on spills in Sarnia and Aamjiwnaang Reserve, visit: https://aamjiwnaangsolidarity.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/AamjiwnaangSarniaAgainstPipelines/

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