Slow Journalism unit wins for long read on effect of pollutant-emitting oil and chemical plants built among Indigenous communities.
Judges for the 27th annual Amnesty International Canada Awards have awarded Al Jazeera English Online top prize in the Mixed Media category for its long-form interactive feature, Toxic Legacy: The fight to end environmental racism in Canada.
Produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources, the long read focuses on the heavily industrialised area known as Chemical Valley around the Canadian city of Sarnia, Ontario, on the southern tip of Lake Huron.
The area, just across from the US state of Michigan, is notorious for some three dozen petroleum refineries, petrochemical plants and energy facilities that for decades have emitted toxic pollutants into the surrounding communities.
Journalists for Al Jazeera English Online, Megan O’Toole and Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, dug deep into the issue of environmental racism in the cities, First Nations communities and neighbourhoods around Chemical Valley – which is predominantly populated by Indigenous communities and people of colour.
In the story, which includes embedded video, high-quality photography and graphic maps, the journalists interview a variety of residents – some who, since childhood, remember playing in foul-smelling “foggy mist”.
With the high incidence of stillbirths, cancers, blood and respiratory diseases in the area, parents fear for their children’s health.
According to a 2019 report by environmental group Ecojustice, some 23 facilities in Chemical Valley are emitting more than 50 tonnes of air pollutants per year. In total, Sarnia-area facilities emitted more than 45,300 tonnes of air pollutants the same year – about 10 percent of total emissions across the province of Ontario. Chemical Valley accounts for about 40 percent of Canada’s chemical industry.
“Our journalists continue to bring attention to underreported stories impacting the most vulnerable communities,” said Soraya Salam, Manager of Al Jazeera English Online. “This honour is very encouraging as we pursue more original, courageous online reporting around environmental justice issues.”
Al Jazeera English Online’s frequent contributor, Brandi Morin, also emerged with an Honourable Mention for her award-winning long-form reporting on Indigenous and First Nations communities for Canada’s ‘crying shame:’ The fields full of children’s bones. Brandi’s earlier long-form reporting for Al Jazeera won a 2021 Edward R Murrow Award in the Feature Reporting category for The stench of death: On Canada’s Highway of Tears.
The awards were announced by organisers of the Amnesty International Canada Awards on September 14 in Ottawa. A Facebook Live Stream event to recognise the winners and honourees will be held on October 12 at 7:30pm EDT (23:30 GMT).