For many years residents of Sarnia, a small Canadian town, have been subjected to dangerous industrial chemical leaks and spills from big energy companies. It’s only now that we’re discovering the dangerous side effects.

And the news is appalling.

At 3:25 p.m., in the middle of a frigid afternoon on Feb. 7, 2014, an alarm went off inside the Imperial Oil Refinery in Sarnia.

A fuse leading to a heater had blown, causing a pipe to freeze and rupture, and over 500 kilograms of hydrocarbon gas spilled into the air.

The plant went into lockdown, workers scurried to designated safe havens as the smell of gas drifted into nearby neighbourhoods.

Residents reported burning eyes, dizziness and nausea. One woman on Facebook said the release “made my children start coughing and get headaches,” another observed that she suffered a “headache” and “now I can’t stop vomiting.”

Sarnia’s hospital declared a “code grey,” closing its air intake and postponing a surgery.

Investigative reporters uncovered that Plans Midstream, the company that manages the oil refinery, didn’t report the spill until 15 hours after it happened.

The numbers are shocking. From 2014-15, there were over 500 incidents like this, almost all of which weren’t reported.

Chemicals from these spills are linked to leukemia and other dangerous cancers. Sarnia and the Aamjiwnaang First Nations report more respiratory illnesses than neighbouring cities and higher incidences of lunch cancer and mesothelioma than the average for Ontario.

Ada Lockridge, however, says some people have resigned themselves to the reality that this is the cost of working and living in Chemical Valley.

Some of the biggest chemical and oil companies in the world operate facilities near Sarnia, including:

  • Imperial Oil
  • Shell Canada
  • Suncor Energy
  • Plains Midstream Canada

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