COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4) – Some neighbors of the Suncor Energy Plant are now able to see real-time information about the quality of the air, with monitors installed right outside their homes.
CBS News Colorado has been following the Commerce City community’s efforts to prevent the oil refinery’s emissions from polluting the air and water.
Now the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also pressing the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) to do more to engage the community each time Suncor seeks to modify its emissions permit.
Cristina Ruiz is a “promotora” with Cultivando, the community group that paid for the air monitors via a multimillion-dollar settlement with CDPHE, which Suncor provided after repeated air pollution violations. Ruiz is trained to educate other community members about the monitors, in order to promote community health and advocacy.
When the particulate matter spikes, she’ll have her 10-year-old son Aaron stay indoors, but Ruiz says the monitors represent much more.
“The goal of this project is to empower the community to make changes, to have a better environment,” said Ruiz.
Cultivando Director of Environmental Justice Aracely Navarro says the monitors have been a game-changer for the community around the oil refinery.
“The main thing is they feel listened to. A lot of these families have been dealing with these issues for 20 plus years and they felt ignored,” said Navarro.
Suncor told CBS News Colorado, that it is strongly supportive of air monitoring. Last year Suncor launched a community air monitoring program of its own.
Dr. Michael Lumpkin is a toxicologist and consultant for Suncor. He said since their monitoring commenced nine months ago, he’s not seen the presence of chemical compounds in the air for long enough to be a risk to public health.
“Through that period of time, we have not seen chemical or analyte values in the air at any of our sampling stations that are of concern to me as a toxicologist,” said Dr. Lumpkin.
In an objection to Suncor’s newest permit, the EPA says the burning of excess gas at the plant – a process known as flaring – should not be exempt from monitoring. The EPA’s Region 8 administrator also stressed that CDPHE and Suncor must do more to engage neighbors of the plant, writing:
“The location of the Suncor facility raises significant environmental justice concerns.”
“CDPHE has processed…about 29 minor permit modifications since the permit was last revised in 2009…authorizing physical changes to the facility that would increase emissions, without a process for public notice and comment raises significant concerns.”
Joel Minor, Program Manager of Environmental Justice for CDPHE said, “We have had more that we could do in the past. And we’re continuing to learn about how we can do more. And we certainly have always taken our regulatory obligation to ensure that Suncor is complying with all air quality, regulations and laws and permit terms seriously.”
Cristina Ruiz is grateful authorities are listening.
“Yes, we are seeing that there are many changes, and thanks to this – things are being done and hopefully we will go far,” said Ruiz
The CDPHE has until late June to revise the Suncor permit, allow the public to review, then re-submit a new permit proposal to the EPA.