A Global News investigative documentary that exposed the disturbing frequency of industrial leaks and spills in Ontario’s “Chemical Valley” has been named a finalist for the prestigious New York Festivals Award.
Canada’s Toxic Secret, a half-hour documentary broadcast on network TV in Canada as a Global News special presentation, was named a finalist in the “Best Investigative Report” category.
The investigation exposed a dearth of oversight and a troubling lack of public alerting, and the efforts of people who stood up to a culture of silence to say they believe it’s making them sick.
“It’s rewarding to receive viewer emails applauding our journalism for helping make workplaces safer and this nod from the New York Festivals is the icing on the cake,“ says Mike Omelus, vice-president of national news and newsgathering for Global News. “Our incredibly talented team worked tirelessly to pull this story together and this recognition is richly deserved.”
A two-year long investigation
The Global News team spent two and a half years investigating ‘Chemical Valley’, creating a database of thousands of pages of incident reports of chemical leaks and spills. They connected the dots between their frequency and severity of spills, and found that several incidents exposed the public to dangerous chemicals, including cancer-causing toxins.
Despite that pattern of dangerous leaks and spills, Global News revealed that the city’s state-of-the-art alert system — funded by industry — had only been used once in four years. Unaware of what wafted in the air around them, residents were limited in their ability to protect themselves. Following the investigation, some critics argued criminal charges should be laid.
Caught in the middle of this toxic circle was the small First Nation of Aamjiwnaang, whose calls for environmental justice had long gone unanswered.
In the face of extreme pressure to remain silent, and fear of losing their jobs, members spoke candidly about loved ones dying of cancer, of illnesses they believed were linked to pollution, and concerns about premature death because of where they live.
Canada’s Toxic Secret: Video diary of Ada Lockridge
Forty-eight hours after the documentary aired and Global News’ media partners at The Star and National Observer published online and in print, the Ontario government committed to funding a study examining the health impacts of industrial pollution in the region — a study the community had requested in vain for 10 years.
Two weeks after that, long-demanded regulations for sulphur dioxide — which hadn’t been updated in 43 years — were introduced. The series drove two weeks of debate in Ontario’s legislature, marked by calls for action and declarations of environmental racism as the Aamjiwnaang suffered.
Shortly afterward, the Ontario government announced that after an eight-year delay, it would finally regulate the cumulative effects of air pollution in Chemical Valley.
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Canada’s Toxic Secret is part of a series of investigations called The Price of Oil, the largest collaboration of journalists in Canadian history, which brings together more than 50 journalists, editors, students and teachers from four journalism schools, three media outlets and a think tank. The work empowered whistleblowers and victims to come forward with harrowing tales of infraction and injury, and provided a voice for marginalized communities — including a First Nation — living in the shadow of industrial giants. The investigation continues today.