A new study is drawing attention to the health problems being faced by a First Nations community living near one of Canada's most industrialized areas.

Members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation living on a reserve near Sarnia, Ont., have long suspected harmful chemicals were behind an unusually low male birth rate and slew of other reported health issues.

Now, tests performed by a McGill University professor suggest mothers and children are being exposed to higher-than-average levels of harmful hormone-blocking pollutants.

While the study doesn't prove that the pollutants are to blame for earlier research that found baby girls outnumbered boys by a two-to-one ratio in the community, it does suggest a possible link.

The reserve at the centre of the study is located near a patch of southern Ontario that some environmental activists call "chemical valley."

There are 60 industrial facilities found within a 25 kilometre radius of Aamjiwnaang lands.

"It's the first study to really show that mothers and children in the area are exposed to a number of pollutants," said Niladri Basu, a McGill professor and the study's lead author.

More detailed research is needed to establish a connection between pollutants, health risks and the surrounding environment, Basu said.

Residents of Aamjiwnaang have been calling for such a study for years, though a lack of funding continues to impede more detailed research.

Ada Lockridge, who helped found Aamjiwnaang's environmental committee, said pollution is a fact of life for the reserve's roughly 800 residents.

Like others in the community, Lockridge keeps a special plastic bucket — as part of a group known as the "bucket brigade" — to collect environmental samples that can be tested for toxins whenever the air seems especially poor. The results are sent to a U.S.-based monitoring organization.

"It's a beautiful place, but there is all kinds of industry close by," she said.

According to Lockridge, the evidence continues to mount in favour of stricter environmental controls in the area.

"Everything we do gets us a little further, but it's moving very slowly," she said. "Every study we've ever done, people say, 'this is cause for concern,' but more studies need to be done."

Approximately 40 per cent of Canada's chemical industry is clustered in the area, according to a 2007 report by the Canadian environmental group Ecojustice.

Located at the southernmost tip of Lake Huron on the border between Ontario and Michigan, activists say the area has become one of Canada's pollution hot spots — lined with chemical plants, manufacturing plants, and refineries.

A 2006 community survey by Aamjiwnaang's environment committee cited a number of health issues, including miscarriages, chronic headaches and asthma. Forty per cent of band members surveyed required an inhaler.

Elaine MacDonald, a scientist who co-authored the 2007 Ecojustice report, is hopeful Basu's study will encourage further research.

As it stands, it's difficult to draw a direct correlation between pollutants and health issues such as the low male birth rate.

"This is a start, and it's a great start, but to me there's so much that needs to be done, and there's no money," she said.

MacDonald said it's been difficult to get government funding at both the federal and provincial level. A more comprehensive study that includes the surrounding area, Lambton County, has stalled due to lack of funding.

"The major exposures in this community are via air, so I would like to see a study focusing on air pollutants," MacDonald said.

For the recent McGill study, 43 mother-child pairs from the community were tested for environmental pollutants. Blood, urine and hair samples were taken from those who participated.

Exposures were higher-than-average for chemicals such as cadmium, possibly mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.

Potential sources of the chemicals are industry, the general environment, and the home. It's not conclusive which is to blame in this case.

PCBs are used in industrial applications such as coolants in transformers and motors and have been largely banned, although they can remain in the environment for years.

Previous studies of other populations have linked exposure to PCBs with low male birth rates.

Aamjiwnaang's low male birth rate was documented in research published in the U.S. journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Between 1999 and 2003, the sex ratio of girls to boys was roughly 33 per cent for boys and 67 per cent for girls.

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Syncrude Upgrader and Oil Sands

    The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.

  • Boreal Forest and Coast Mountains / Atlin Lake, British Columbia | 2001

    This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.

  • Tailings Pond in Winter, Abstract #2 / Alberta Tar Sands | 2010

    Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.

  • Aspen and Spruce | Northern Alberta | 2001

    Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.

  • Tar Sands at Night #1 | Alberta Oil Sands | 2010

    Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.

  • Dry Tailings #2 | Alberta Tar Sands | 2010

    In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.

  • Tailings Pond Abstract #2 | Alberta Tar Sands / 2010

    So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.

  • Confluence of Carcajou River and Mackenzie River | Mackenzie Valley, NWT | 2005

    The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.

  • Black Cliff | Alberta Oil Sands | 2005

    Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.

  • Oil Sands Upgrader in Winter| Alberta Oil Sands | 2010

    The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.

  • Boreal Forest and Wetland | Athabasca Delta Northern Alberta | 2010

    Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.

  • Tar Pit #3

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  • <strong>NEXT -----> Craziest Pictures of the oilsands</strong>

  • Syncrude's Mildred Lake Upgrader, part of The Syncrude Project complex for oil sands processing, is pictured Monday, March 8, 2006 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a lake reclaimed from an old mine near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 22, 2009.

  • A disused mining machine on display in front of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta on October 22, 2009.

  • Tailings pond in winter.

  • Syncrude upgrader.

  • Dry tailings.

  • The Suncor oilsands operation uses trucks that are 3 stories tall, weigh one million pounds, and cost 7 million dollars each.

  • Oilsands at night.

  • A tailings pond.

  • Black Cliff in the Alberta oilsands.

  • Oilsands upgrader in winter.

  • Oilsands extraction.

  • Oil sits on the surface at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. Photographer:

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  • Oils mixes with water at a tailings pond at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013.

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  • This Tuesday, July 10, 2012 aerial photo shows a Nexen oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

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  • A night view of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 22, 2009.

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  • Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta , Canada on October 25, 2009.

  • Fort McMurray is in the heart of the world's biggest single oil deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands, and the oil is extracted by surface mining and refined in the region. The oil production is at the heart of the economy.

  • A large oil refinery in Alberta's Oilsands project. Fort McMurray, Alberta.

  • Next: Alberta Oil Spills

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    A bitumen leak was reported at a Canadian Natural Resources oilsands operation in the weapons range part of the RCAF base in June 2013.

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Company officials said the leak - at what it calls its Primrose operation - was caused by faulty machinery at one of the wells, affected an area of approximately 13.5 hectares and released as much as 3,200 litres of bitumen each day.

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Preliminary tallies put the death toll from the leak at 16 birds, seven small mammals and 38 amphibians. Dozen were rescued and taken to an Edmonton centre for rehabilitation.

  • CFB Cold Lake

    As of early August 2013, more than 1.1 million litres of bitumen had been pulled from marshlands, bushes and waterways.

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Although CNRL could not say when the leak may finally be stopped, it estimates it will likely cost more than $40 million to clean up.

  • <em>Click through for other recent spill in Alberta</em>

  • Plains Midstream

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  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boat passes by a boom stretching out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Debris pushes up against a boom as it stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.