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Community environmental group selected to monitor Suncor oil refinery with $1.7 million grant

Suncor Refinery in Commerce City, CO
Posted at 9:35 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2023-11-07 22:11:58-05

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — A community environmental organization in Colorado is tasked with monitoring emissions from the state's largest oil refinery.

Cultivando announced on Wednesday they will spend $1.7 million on air pollution monitors that will be placed around the Suncor refinery in Commerce City. The factory paid the Colorado Department of Health and Environment $9 million in 2020 for violations to air pollution regulations.

"There has not been a monitor that's detecting as many toxins as this one we're using," said Olga Gonzalez, the executive director at Cultivando. "It's not somebody doing it for us coming into our community, but it's our own community doing it for ourselves."

The Canadian company produces 98,000 of barrels of oil every day and a large portion of the gasoline used in Colorado.

The factory has also raised concern, however, for environmental disruptions, including an orange ash that spewed from its smoke stacks in December of 2019. Several neighborhoods and two schools were put on lockdown. But, according to Gonzalez, it is the invisible pollutants that could be the most harmful.

"It reaches people and surrounding communities that maybe are not thinking about it, Maybe they're not smelling the stench that comes out of the Suncor refinery, but nonetheless, it is still affecting them," she said. "[The sensors] will help us have information in real time. We won't have to wait for an alarm."

Gonzales also believes preventing pollution is a an issue of race as well. She says many of the surrounding neighborhoods are heavily Spanish-speaking.

"Everyone talks about equity and racial justice," Gonzales said. "This is what it looks like in real time."