Thirty-three Aamjiwnaang residents ill from Shell spill

stw-aamjiwnaang sickness from shell

Thirty-three people in Aamjiwnaang First Nation were sick after the mercaptan leak at Shell Canada.

Shell reported a sour water leak Jan. 11 around 2 pm. CVECO – the emergency cooperative of local industry – and St. Clair Township issued an order for residents to go inside, closing doors and windows and turning off ventilation systems. But it was an hour before the emergency sirens sounded, alerting people of the incident.

Officials at the Day Care center on Aamjiwnaang noticed the strong odor, but we’re not aware of the emergency order. They only began shutting down the ventilation system after the local fire department had tested the air for a possible natural gas leak. By then, some of the children were suffering from red eyes and sore throats – some of the symptoms associated with exposure to mercaptan.

Aamjiwnaang First Nation spokesperson Christine Rogers says 33 people have filed papers listing the physical effects after the release. Another seven have indicated they too were affected but have yet to fill in the necessary paperwork.

“Some of the symptoms were bloodshot eyes, headaches including migraines, nausea, throat irritation,” says Rogers. “We had a few that reported dizziness, shortness of breath, a bitter taste in the mouth and coughing.”

The complaints were spread out over the entire reserve, she added.

Sara Plain, the director of health services for Aamjiwnaang, says this is the first time the effects of a release are being extensively documented. She says while both Ministry of the Environment and Health Canada’s toxicologist say the actual chemical content in the air was not above the provincial standards, the sheer smell was enough to make people ill. “The chemical levels were not high enough to cause what they call short-term health effects but there were distinct odour impacts,” says Plain. “No one was disputing that the effects that people felt were real and were associated with the spill but they are just calling it an odour effect as opposed to a health effect.”

Plain says once all the claims have been filed, the First Nation will meet to determine what it will do with the information.

In the meantime, Shell Canada is trying to help ease health concerns. Tammy Joseph, assistant supervisor at the local day care, says the company sent crews to clean the building inside and out last week. It also replaced air filters in the ventilation system and clean ducts in case “anything got through” in the hopes of “making us feel better.”

The Ministry of the Environment continues “gathering information to determine the appropriate compliance action” according to spokesperson Kate Jordon.

CVECO meets Thursday to determine what caused the breakdown in communications and improve the warning systems.

Heather Wright