Reducing Benzene Emissions from INEOS Styrolution Canada Ltd.

ERO number
Notice type
Environmental Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990
Posted by
Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Notice stage
Exception posted
Last updated

This notice is about a decision that was not subject to the normal consultation process. Learn more about the types of notices on the Environmental Registry of Ontario.

Exception summary

We have made a new regulation (O. Reg. 206/24) under the Environmental Protection Act to impose benzene limits and monitoring requirements on the INEOS Styrolution Canada Ltd. Sarnia facility. O. Regs. 222/07 and 223/07 have been amended to enable the ministry to issue environmental penalty (EP) orders for relevant prescribed contraventions.

Why consultation isn't required

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) has relied on section 29 of the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR), as it is the opinion of MECP that the delay in giving notice to the public of the proposal for the regulations, allowing for public participation, and in considering the response to the notice would have resulted in:

  • danger to the health and safety of any person,
  • harm or serious risk of harm to the environment, or
  • injury or damage or serious risk of injury or damage to any property

MECP is posting this exception notice to give notice of the decision to rely on section 29 of the EBR.

Emergency Situation Details

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks remains very concerned about the elevated levels of benzene and associated health risks to Aamjiwnaang First Nation (AFN) and the Sarnia community.

These risks are associated with possible ongoing exposure to benzene for those in the area around the INEOS Styrolution Canada Ltd.’s Sarnia facility (INEOS).

Benzene is a carcinogen that can cause short-term health risks; exposures should be minimized as much as possible.

In March 2024, final reports from the Sarnia Area Environmental Health Project (SAEHP) Air Exposure Review concluded that there are elevated airborne concentrations of benzene in the area. This can cause an increase in the risk of cancer above acceptable levels. The highest risks were predicted for the northern parts of the AFN lands and the industrial areas in south Sarnia close to facilities which are emitting benzene. These areas also exhibit short-term 1-hour “spikes” in benzene concentrations which may also pose a short-term health risk. The report’s authors recommended to take further action to reduce ambient concentrations and protect human health.

Shortly following the release of this report, AFN experienced a series of these benzene spikes. Current MECP advice on short-term exposures advises that 1-hour average concentrations should not exceed 90 µg/m3. Since March 29, 2024, there have been multiple periods with benzene levels spiking above 90 µg/m3 at the MECP community monitor located near the AFN band office.

Exposure to benzene may cause the following, depending on the exposure concentration and duration:

  • effects on blood and bone marrow, which can affect the immune system, among other problems, following short-term exposures to elevated benzene
  • increased risk of cancers such as leukemia, following long-term exposures to elevated benzene
  • reversible neurological symptoms (e.g. dizziness, headache) following short-term exposure to very high benzene concentrations (higher than is typically seen in environmental exposures)

On April 16, 2024, the AFN Chief and Council ordered an immediate evacuation of the band office. People were directed not to use the playground due to concerns about ongoing risk of exposure to high levels of benzene.

On April 25, 2024, hourly concentrations of benzene reached 191 µg/m3 at one of the community monitors. The AFN Chief and Council declared a local state of emergency at AFN due to ongoing concerns about health risks associated with continuing benzene exposure.

Exception details

Benzene occurs at levels high enough to pose health risks in the northern parts of the AFN lands and in other areas of South Sarnia located close to benzene emitting facilities.

Monitoring and modelling analysis undertaken by MECP has confirmed that INEOS is the primary source of benzene currently affecting AFN.

The MECP has been working with INEOS for some time to reduce its benzene emissions. Despite four orders requiring the company to take steps to improve their operations, benzene levels remain elevated and a long-term strategy is needed. As a result, MECP has decided that the best approach to address benzene releases from INEOS would be to create a new regulation.

This regulatory action is one component of a larger coordinated response including regular site visits at INEOS and enhanced 24/7 benzene monitoring. In addition, MECP suspended Condition 1.1 of the Environmental Compliance Approval issued to INEOS related to air emissions (the “air ECA”), and also amended the air ECA as benzene discharges from the facility were above acceptable levels, despite several previous provincial orders requiring the company to reduce benzene emissions. The ministry will continue to consider additional steps and compliance actions that may be required to reduce industrial emissions to improve local air quality.

Details of the New Regulations

On May 31, 2024, Ontario made a new regulation – O. Reg. 206/24 (Air Pollution – Discharge of Benzene from INEOS Styrolution) under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and amended O. Reg. 222/07 under the EPA and O. Reg. 223/07 under the Ontario Water Resources Act.

The new regulation addresses benzene discharges to air from the INEOS Styrene I and II facilities located at 872 Tashmoo Avenue and 1367 Vidal Street South, both in Sarnia Ontario. The new regulation includes requirements for INEOS to:

  • meet limits on benzene concentrations over various averaging periods near the property line or at any point off the property of the INEOS facility.
  • notify the ministry and Aamjiwnaang First Nation (AFN) of any exceedances of the benzene concentration limits
  • identify, undertake and report on cause(s) of any exceedances of the limits and corrective actions to resolve the cause(s).
  • install and operate enhanced monitoring systems in accordance with MECP- accepted monitoring plan (which is also to be shared with AFN). These enhanced systems comprise:
    • a near real-time open path system
    • an enhanced near-real time fenceline system
    • a leak detection system
  • share near-real time monitoring data with the public on a publicly accessible website, including monitoring data from the new fenceline and open path monitoring systems and existing near real-time monitors.
  • Notify MECP and AFN of certain monitoring system failures.
  • Notify MECP of any leaks detected through the leak detection monitoring system.
  • Keep and retain records, including records related to monitoring systems and monitoring data.

Some additional details related to the regulations are found below:

Benzene Limits

This new regulation applies to INEOS and establishes four benzene air discharge concentration limits over different averaging periods. The following concentration limits would apply at any point off property and at monitor locations at or near the property line:

  • Annual, 4.5 µg/m3
  • 2-week, 14 µg/m3
  • 24-hour, 30 µg/m3
  • 1-hour, 90 µg/m3

These concentration limits come into effect two weeks after the date the regulation was filed (May 31, 2024). Associated requirements that would be subject to the same 14-day phase-in period include:

  • Providing notification to MECP and AFN on exceedances
  • Undertaking and reporting requirements to MECP and AFN on cause(s) of exceedance and corrective actions to address cause(s)
  • Posting these notifications and reports to a public website

Enhanced Monitoring

Compliance with the concentration limits will be assessed based on monitored exceedances measured initially at existing temporary near real-time and passive monitoring stations at/near the INEOS property boundary and at MECP community monitoring stations in the vicinity of INEOS.

INEOS is also required to install additional monitoring systems. Specifically, the facility is required to install, operate and maintain:

  • An open-path monitoring system covering at least the south property line between INEOS Styrene II and AFN.
  • A near real-time fenceline monitoring system consisting of fixed or multi-point monitors, intended to replace the existing temporary near real-time monitoring stations. These monitors will be used to assess compliance with the concentration limits.
  • A leak detection monitoring system.

INEOS would also be required to have and use back-up measurement methods for the fenceline monitoring system. The implementation of this monitoring, including the timing and details of installation and operation of the monitoring systems, will be based on an MECP-accepted plan.

Notification of Exceedances and Information Sharing

INEOS is required to notify both MECP and AFN of any exceedances of the benzene limits and include information related to the exceedance.

INEOS is also required to post all benzene monitoring data from the monitoring systems in near real-time on a publicly accessible website.

Corrective Action

The regulation also requires INEOS to investigate the cause of any exceedance and determine corrective actions to resolve the issue and implement those actions. Information about these investigations and corrective actions must also be made publicly available.

Supporting materials

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Air Policy

135 St. Clair Avenue West
Floor 6
Toronto, ON
M4V 1P5

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