“I’m Very Scared and I’m a Sad Mom”: Residents of Commerce City, Colorado, Testify at Suncor Refinery Expansion Hearing

from Unicorn Riot

Commerce City, CO – On Wednesday evening, August 2, 2017, over 100 residents of Commerce City, Colorado, filled the Suncor Energy refinery public hearing for Suncor’s request for modifying their permits (PDF) to allow for more emissions. Unicorn Riot livestreamed the hearing (full video embedded below).

According to the ‘Notice of Public Comment Hearing’ (PDF) published on June 20, 2017, on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission website, there was already a “preliminary determination of approval for modifications to the Title V Permit for the Suncor Energy Refinery Plants 1 and 3.”

This public hearing was not initiated by Commerce City’s government, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE), nor Suncor, it only happened because the Cross Community Coalition, with and through its counsel Earthjustice, submitted a request for a public comment hearing (PDF) before the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission.

According to the request for the public hearing,

The Suncor Refinery (previously under other ownership) has been found to have repeatedly violated its air pollution permits, and has been subject to numerous enforcement actions as a result.

Frequent accidents have raised significant concerns in neighboring communities, with alarming orange clouds of smoke often seen rising above the refinery from miles away.”

Briana Bradley testified against Suncor at the hearing and explained that she had just recently bought her first house with her husband, which happens to be less than a mile from the refinery.

I’m very scared and I’m a sad mom. I started raising my stepson seven years ago, and his mom took off on him, so my husband and I have tried to give him the absolute best life that we can. . . and I just found out that I’m pregnant. . . and now I’m scared to death.”

Bradley went on to say:

So, I get this sheet tonight with 18 ozone alert days, and I have let my son play in the backyard every single one of those days because I didn’t know. . . Also babies born within a 10-mile radius of one of these plants can suffer upper respiratory problems — which we have heard plenty of stories about tonight — rashes, increased hospitalization — which we’ve also heard about tonight — fatigue, dizziness, vomiting, nose bleeds, and heart defects.”

Another mother, Dina Fuente, testified against the permit modifications because her two children already suffer from from asthma, allergies, and other respiratory problems.

We moved to this area five years ago, and in the last two and a half years, it seems like the clinics and the hospitals have been our second home. My youngest was out of school 17 days last year because of asthma.”

During the hearing, which lasted over two hours, about fifty people testified against Suncor’s request, and two people testified in favor.

One of the two who testified in favor was an elected official of Commerce City who touted Suncor as a “very good community partner in Commerce City,” and said that “Suncor has done a lot of good things in this community.”

He was referring to the funding of the Suncor Boys and Girls Club, the funding to help restore the Sand Creek Regional Greenway (which they also pollute), and the millions of dollars in property tax that the city receives from Suncor every year.

However, as former Suncor Energy refinery worker testified:

I am totally against this emissions’ upgrade. Number one, yes, Suncor donates a lot of money to these communities, but that is just like giving someone a banana split, so you go about what you wanna do.” Edward Armijo

The Suncor Energy refinery in Commerce City is infamous for air pollution violations, oil spills, and for being a main contributor to the poor air quality in the Denver-metro area, specifically for the zip code 80216.

According to Earthjustice:

The zip code including two nearby neighborhoods, Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, home to high percentages of Latino and low-income residents, was recently identified as the most polluted in the nation based on a set of environmental hazard criteria. Members of this community are suffering from some of the highest rates of asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity in Colorado.”

Photo Credit: South Adams County Fire Department Facebook Page. Photo taken on March 16, 2017 of Suncor Refinery during the power outage.

The most recent incident at the refinery happened on March 16, 2017. Because of an Xcel Energy power failure, the refinery released more than 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide, more than 500 pounds of sulfur dioxide gas, and concentrations up to 1,120 parts per million of carbon monoxide into the air, exceeding state air quality limits.

Only four months prior, on October 14, 2016, another Xcel Energy power failure resulted in the refinery’s release of an estimated 75,600 pounds of sulfur dioxide, which is 150 times greater than the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) daily limit of 500 pounds. This resulted in road closures, a school lockdown, and a warning to residents to remain indoors.

Sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide are highly toxic byproducts of refining and burning fossil fuels. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not set a national air quality limit for hydrogen sulfide because any exposure is considered dangerous.

Read the rest of the article on Unicorn Riot

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