Colorado nonprofit calls for changes to EPA air monitoring policies after studying Commerce City pollution

Suncor Refinery Commerce City air pollution
Posted at 7:30 PM, May 23, 2024

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — A Colorado nonprofit is calling for changes to the United States Environmental Protection Agency's policies after it conducted a study of the pollution in Commerce City.

Cultivando said the results of its air monitoring program, which concluded in June 2023, show high pollution numbers in the area while revealing problems with current state and federal policies. The study found that many toxic chemicals emitted into the air are not monitored by the EPA. Some of the pollutant levels were found at significantly higher levels than neighboring cities, according to Cultivando.

"The graphs are always consistently higher," said Laura Martinez, an environmental justice manager at Cultivando. "If you look at Broomfield or Boulder, they rarely exceed levels.”

Air pollutants in Commerce City vs. other Colorado cities

Commerce City is no stranger to high pollution levels, particularly due to the Suncor Energy refinery. The EPA found that the Commerce City refinery produces more pollution than 11 similar refineries in the United States.

Suncor lost a $9 million settlement in 2019 and, in February, was ordered to pay the state $10.5 million — the highest air pollution penalty in the history of Colorado.

Although Suncor has faced numerous fines, Martinez argues that current EPA and state monitoring programs have major gaps that lead to flawed data.

"What is most concerning is that the state that is supposed to be protecting the community isn't protecting them," said Martinez.

Martinez said Cultivando's study found high levels of pollutants that the EPA doesn't monitor. Cultivando monitored levels for P.M 2.5, methane and carbon monoxide. One of the most egregious levels they found was for P.M 2.5, which can lead to a number of health problems.

Colorado nonprofit calls for changes to EPA air monitoring policies after studying Commerce City pollution

Additionally, Martinez criticized how often the state reads pollutant levels. Cultivando monitored levels every 15 minutes, but the state only does hourly reads. Martinez argues that the hourly readings can miss short minute-long spikes that are dangerous for people.

"They don't capture those one-minute or two-minute peaks," said Martinez.

Cultivando criticized EPA regulations, some of which date back to the 90s.

"Acts like the Clean Air Act and the Water Quality Act are antiquated," said Guadalupe Solís, the executive director of environmental justice at Cultivando.

Although acknowledging the importance of the EPA policies, Solís argues that they haven't been updated for current times.

"These acts were implemented decades ago, and they don't currently reflect the impacts on our community," said Solís.

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