Reimagining pollution data: improving the accessibility of National Pollutant Release Inventory data for communities living near industry

The following page summarizes outreach and engagement activities carried out by the University of Toronto’s Technoscience Research Unit (TRU) with members of the Aamjiwnaang community on their perceptions of National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) data.

The people and the land

Aamjiwnaang, formerly known as the Chippewas of Sarnia, is an Anishinaabeg First Nation whose members have lived on the shores of the St. Clair River since the formation of the Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin (i.e., Five Great Lakes) at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,700 years ago (via The Land and the Refinery). Guided by the Seven Grandfather Teachings, Aamjiwnaang Anishinaabeg remain inherently connected to  the land through a respectful relationship, taking care of the land for generations to come. For more information on the community and the land, please refer to Aamjiwnaang’s About Us and History webpages.

As of April 2023, Aamjiwnaang First Nation territory, located between Lakes Huron and Erie in Southern Ontario, covers 1,280.5 hectares with a total population of  2,542 people. The surrounding area, which is traditional land of the Aamjiwnaang Anishinaabeg, is known as Chemical Valley because of its more than 150 years’ history of petroleum-related production.

A number of health and environmental concerns have emerged from the direct and frequent exposure to chemicals and other pollutants. Direct and indirect impacts of substances on health may include higher risk of diseases due to increased exposure, changes in population dynamics and the loss of traditional Indigenous healing processes due to the loss of medicinal properties of plants from pollution. Additionally, a diminished connection to the land, caused by the inability to use it as in the past, has implications for the livelihood of the community, for the harvesting of land and traditional foods, and on the transmission of knowledge.

Project overview

The project, Reimagining Pollution Data, brought together an Indigenous-led Environmental Data Justice Lab at the University of Toronto (i.e., Technoscience Research Unit) and Indigenous community members from Aamjiwnaang First Nation to assess the usefulness of NPRI data to communities in areas with high concentrations of pollution. In particular, the research questions asked:

Reimagining Pollution Data expanded on the TRU’s ongoing engagement with NPRI data to support representations of cumulative exposure, less technical data products, and improved contextualization of pollution data. It will serve as a cornerstone of the NPRI’s efforts to continually improve the functioning of environmental data for the communities most affected by pollution.

Community outreach and engagement

The first step of the project was community outreach and engagement. Using email and social media, the team announced two online drop-in events for community members to share their thoughts on NPRI data.

The first event presented the NPRI program and the TRU’s Environmental Data Justice work. It was attended by three community members, including an Elder, and an Indigenous graphic designer who assisted with visualizing the conversation. In the second event, the visual notes and infographic produced by the TRU (based on discussions in the first event) were presented to four community members, including an Elder, for comment, approval and editing. Finally, TRU community researchers from Aamjiwnaang First Nation held two one-on-one sessions with key community members to discuss their thoughts on NPRI data.

Infographic on Reimagining Pollution Data

Based on the feedback and visual notes from the community engagement sessions, the TRU developed an infographic that visually depicts the NPRI and how pollution data could be reimagined to better serve Indigenous communities. In particular, it envisions a future where pollution data is community-defined and rooted in accountability to the land. The infographic uses a wild strawberry plant to visually depict the values (roots), practices (stem) and effects (fruit and flowers) of pollution data, as it is and as it could be.

The feedback and infographic are held by the TRU, who will circulate the infographic via social media and in print to community members.

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