Ontario suspends approval of Sarnia chemical plant over benzene emissions

Ontario’s Environment Ministry has ordered a petrochemical facility in Sarnia to suspend production operations after high benzene emissions, first reported by a neighboring First Nation.

Aamjiwnaang First Nation, which is surrounded by industrial facilities and monitors air quality readings, recently said citizens were getting sick and there were high emissions of the carcinogenic substance from Ineos Styrolution.

The company said in a statement Tuesday that its own monitors did not detect any emissions outside prescribed limits, but that it closed temporarily to perform maintenance and fix a mechanical problem.

But the ministry said late Wednesday that “despite several previous provincial orders requiring the company to reduce benzene emissions, recent readings at this site remain above acceptable levels.”

“Today the decision was made to suspend the environmental compliance approval of Ineos Styrolution,” the ministry wrote in a statement.

“This action will ensure that the facility, currently closed for maintenance, fully addresses the causes and sources of emissions.”

The facility must meet certain conditions, including suspending production operations at the facility, removing all benzene storage from the site, repairing leaking equipment, installing full vapor control on vessels containing benzene and the implementation of a comprehensive benzene monitoring and community notification plan.

“We will continue to closely monitor the company’s progress in meeting the requirements of the provincial orders, as well as the actions required by the amended ECA,” the ministry wrote.

“The company will need to complete these actions and submit a commissioning plan to the ministry for review before they can resume normal operations.”

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Ineos did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday night, but said in its statement the day before that it constantly monitors air quality with five state-of-the-art monitors on site and would send alerts if there were emissions outside. the approved range.

“We have reviewed all data for the period in question and can confirm that our monitors did not record emissions outside our prescribed limits,” the company wrote.

“We can confirm that no one at our site has reported feeling unwell and our site continues to be a safe place to work for our employees and contractors. We hope this will bring added peace of mind to our neighbors.”

Members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation have long advocated for tighter monitoring and stricter regulations, saying they have high rates of asthma, headaches, learning and behavioral problems in children, and miscarriages.

The Ineos factory produces styrene for use in the manufacturing of plastics, including polystyrene containers and trays and foam packaging pellets. Styrene is produced from benzene, a petrochemical that is primarily extracted from crude oil.

Ontario had last week issued a compliance order to Ineos, requiring it to develop a plan to prevent, reduce and eliminate the discharge of benzene into wastewater. It was also ordered to implement procedures to notify the public when benzene concentrations in the air exceed certain thresholds and take measures to prevent, reduce and eliminate other sources of benzene discharge.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2024.

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