On August 18, 1984, Courtney Gilmour was born in Sarnia, Ontario. Her right arm ends just above the wrist, and her left arm ends immediately below the elbow. She has one fully functional leg; her other leg ends mid femur. She uses a prosthetic to assist in walking. To complete tasks, she uses only the “nubs” at the end of her arms. Courtney’s parents recall her personal independence and mental and physical perseverance from an early age.
Today, Courtney is a writer for several online publications and a sketch writer for the famous comedy school Second City. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Sarnia, a town of approximately 70,000 people, is also known as Chemical Valley because of the 60+ facilities that comprise 40 per cent of Canada’s petrochemical industry. The amount of pollution generated throughout the region has given Sarnia the distinction of “the dirtiest place in Canada.” During her nine-month pregnancy, Courtney’s mother drove daily through Chemical Valley.
Shortly after Courtney’s birth, three geneticists visited her mother to determine if the birth defects were genetically linked. After performing extensive analyses, each geneticist independently concluded consistent exposure to pollutants during pregnancy led to Courtney’s birth defects. Courtney’s parents accepted the findings and raised their child to develop into a normal, healthy girl.
How many other Sarnia residents welcomed a child with abnormal conditions? How have the disabled faired throughout life? How many people, exposed to pollutants every day, have developed abnormalities or become ill?
Petrochemical factories emit hundreds of different pollutants into the atmosphere during routine operations. Most environmental and government agencies have relatively relaxed standards and limitations on pollutant emission. And the science grossly lags behind the speed of industry development. Why wait decades to see a series of cases before implementing an environmental standard? Solid research has shown that particular pollutants act as carcinogens, lead to defects, or negatively affect communities surrounded by industry.
While scientists and researchers may say that it is nearly impossible to prove that a specific constituent X caused specific defect Y, it is very possible to photograph an abnormality and capture a heartfelt tale of a victim.
Courtney is just one piece of this diverse puzzle. My goal is to seek out people who are being abnormally affected by this vast industry, document their stories and begin assembling the pieces.
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