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Air monitors detect sulfur dioxide spikes from Suncor refinery in Commerce City

Posted at 3:50 PM, Apr 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-14 17:50:22-04

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The Suncor refinery in Commerce City has once again released a dangerous pollutant into the air.

The higher-than-normal levels of sulfur dioxide were detected Wednesday morning, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

“What we know about sulfur dioxide is that it causes a range of different impacts, primarily on your lungs. It can cause wheezing, shortness of breath,” CDPHE toxicologist Kristy Richardson told Denver7.

Air monitors detected two spikes of sulfur dioxide — one at 155 parts per billion (ppb) and another at 186 ppb. Both spikes are more than twice the federal ambient air quality standard of 75 ppb.

Because the levels were not detected for one hour, the pollution did not exceed the federal standard.

“If we suspect a violation occurred, we conduct a thorough investigation and follow the formal enforcement process as established by state statute," CDPHE said.

The state has found more than 100 violations at the refinery since 2017.

A fire at Suncor in December shut down the plant and resulted in nearly 40 violations. Two employees were injured. In 2020, Suncor paid $9 million for air pollution violations.

CDPHE says short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide can have health impacts, such as exacerbating asthma, especially in vulnerable groups like those with respiratory conditions, older adults and children.

“Children tend to breathe at higher rates than adults based on their body size. And there also is some evidence that shows that they might be more vulnerable to sulfur dioxide,” Richardson said.

During these short-term spikes, CDPHE recommends people limit strenuous outdoor activities, close doors and windows, set their air conditioner to recirculate, consider an air purifier and avoiding the areas most impacted.

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