Testing shows hydrogen sulphide in the air at Aamjiwnaang after Shell incident

Air samples scooped up by Aamjiwnaang environmental activist Ada Lockridge the day three contractors at Shell Canada were exposed to hydrogen sulphide says the chemical could be detected in the air on First Nation land.

On April 26, the three men were cleaning a piece of equipment during a turn around when there was a chemical reaction. The three were taken to Bluewater Health, treated and released and returned to work the next day.

Lockridge’s daughter came to her home that morning and told her there was a stink in the air saying it was “pretty bad out there.”

Lockridge, who was trained by California-based Global Community Monitor on taking air samples in a Bucket Brigade, got out one of the buckets and scooped up some of the air while watching the neighbour children waiting for the bus.

Testing on the air sample has just been completed and GCM Trainer Ruth Breech says the sample “detected levels of hydrogen sulphide that exceeds both the Ontario 24-hour health based standard and the 10-minute odour-based standard.”

According to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to even low concentrations of the chemical can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat and may make it hard for people with asthma to breathe.

Breecher added 11 other chemicals were detected in the sample.

Lockridge says the emergency sirens didn’t sound in Aamjiwnaang during the incident. “If I would have listened to Shell, I would have thought there was nothing in the air,” says Lockridge noting the company told residents the chemical was not detected off site.

Lockridge and fellow environmental activist Ron Plain have been working with EcoJustice on this Shell incident and another release in January which made up to 40 First Nations residents ill. They want the Environmental Commissioner to force the Ministry of the Environment to review the incidents saying they may be part of an ongoing problem.

“This result is further evidence of adverse effects and all the more reason why the Ontario Ministry of the Environment must investigate this incident and other recent incidents,” said Ecojustice senior scientist, Elaine MacDonald in a news release.

Lockridge agrees but also wants to see monitoring at Aamjiwnaang improve. She has been speaking to Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health about the issue who appears to be supportive of new devices in the area.

“I don’t know what detection their (Shell’s) monitors are at…but should we have better ones,” she says. “I’m really hoping something will get done.”

– Heather Wright