Sarnia, Ontario has often been called the dirtiest place in Canada: it has the worst air quality of any city in the country. The community of approximately 70,000 people sits adjacent Chemical Valley, an enormous cluster of refineries and industrial facilities — including Imperial Oil, Dow Chemical Canada, Suncor Energy, and Shell Canada — which collectively represent 40 percent of Canada’s petrochemical sector.
Courtney Gilmour was born in Sarnia in 1984. Her right arm ends just above the wrist. Her left arm ends immediately below the elbow. She has one fully functional leg; the other ends mid-femur. Courtney uses a prosthetic to assist in walking. As seen in the above video, she performs trivial and complex tasks with only the “nubs” at the end of her arms.
Courtney’s mother routinely drove through Chemical Valley during her pregnancy. Shortly after their daughter’s birth, three geneticists visited the Gilmours to analyze their blood, hair, and other genetic markers. All three experts independently concluded that consistent exposure to pollutants led to Courtney’s birth defects. Her parents accepted these findings, and raised her to become a confident, independent woman. They noted her mental and physical perseverance from an early age.
Today, Courtney lives in Toronto, where she is a successful writer for several online publications and a sketch writer for the famous comedy school Second City.
How many other Sarnia residents welcomed a child with similar disabilities? How have those children fared throughout their lives? How many area people, exposed to pollutants every day, have developed abnormalities or become ill? Courtney is only one piece of this diverse puzzle.
I am a photographer. My goal is to seek out people who have been affected by this vast industry, document their stories, and assemble more pieces of the puzzle. If you or someone you know fits this description, please contact me via my website, erickruszewski.com.