The City of Sarnia
Sarnia is a city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, directly across the Canada-U.S. border from Port Huron, Michigan. With a population of nearly 80,000 (according to the 2011 census), Sarnia is the largest city that borders Lake Huron, as well as the largest in Lambton County.
Sarnia and portions of Lambton County to the immediate south of the city comprise Canada’s “Chemical Valley,” where approximately 40% of the nation’s petrochemical industry is concentrated. Emissions from petrochemical plants, foundries, and other such industrial facilities in this region combine to create one of the most severely polluted hotspots in Canada.
The petrochemical industry in this region was preceded by oil refining that began in the 1850s as nearby oil wells became increasingly commercialized. The presence of these refineries, along with such natural features of the region such as local salt deposits, and a location right across the river from the U.S. and with easy access to the St. Lawrence Seaway, made Sarnia an ideal site for the location of Canada’s first synthetic rubber plant, which was established there in the early 1940s. This, in turn, led to a build-up of petrochemical plants and related facilities throughout the second half of the century.
Chemical Valley is an integral part of the Canadian economy, supplying chemicals and raw materials for the automotive, agricultural, pharmaceutical and other industries. It encompasses 62 large industrial facilities, all within 15 miles of Sarnia. About half of these heavily polluting plants are within three miles of the city. Commonly reported and widely feared health effects include asthma, reproductive problems, learning disabilities, and cancer.