Neighbors of the troubled Suncor refinery in Commerce City and north Denver can begin signing up today for notifications directly from the company explaining the chemical releases that periodically hit the community from the sprawling plant, Suncor said Wednesday.
Suncor said signups to receive Spanish or English, calls or emails will be available by Wednesday afternoon, ensuring “that when the community sees, hears or smells something near the refinery, they will hear directly from the refinery.” Reports for future incidents will start in June.
Advocacy groups said the notification system is a good step, but also far from adequate. They said they are working with legislators to create a broader air monitoring system run by the state Air Pollution Control Division. They are pushing for the state to operate a network of constant contaminant monitors for Suncor neighbors, as well as many other high-pollutant sites around the state.
“I think it’s great people can sign up to get notified; it’s too bad they have to get notified in the first place,” said Jenny Gaeng, transportation advocate for the neighborhood organizing group Conservation Colorado. The group has a dedicated arm for Hispanic outreach in the area, Protegete. “Suncor has a well-documented history of violating their air permits and having a negative impact on the community surrounding it.
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“I’ll sign up for it, I live about 2.5 miles from Suncor,” Gaeng said. “There’s a lot of mistrust in the community and a long, long history of environmental racism in north Denver. I doubt if everyone in the community will find this to be an acceptable solution.”
Globeville, for example, is 57% Hispanic, compared to about 22% in the metro area overall.
Conservation Colorado and allies want the state to run an air monitoring system that would continuously track levels of potentially dangerous chemicals like hydrogen chloride, benzene and hydrogen sulfide, Gaeng said. Suncor appears to be focusing its own notices on chemical releases that are visible to the neighborhood, she said, but that tells them little about long-term exposure and danger.
The new Suncor notifications are separate from existing warnings from the plant that go out when a chemical release is an immediate danger to people in surrounding areas.
“Residents who sign up to receive the refinery’s notifications can select whether they want to receive them through a text message, phone call or email – in English and Spanish,” Suncor’s statement said. The notice will say what happened, that it’s not an imminent threat to health, and link the refinery’s web page for more.
“In the case of an emergency that requires immediate action by the community, we will continue to use the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) through Adams County to notify the community surrounding the refinery.”
Suncor, which refines gasoline for Colorado drivers and aviation fuel for local airports, among other products, is a repeat target for environmentalists and neighbors due to a history of chemical releases impacting local air, leaks into groundwater and major contributions to industrial greenhouse gas emissions.
The new notification system comes in the wake of a March 2020 settlement with the state, where Suncor agreed to pay $9 million for air quality violations at Commerce City dating to 2017. A December 2019 release blanketed nearby neighborhoods like Globeville-Elyria-Swansea in a white, ashy substance, further inflaming decades of poor community relations.
“We see the launch of Refinery Notifications as an efficient way to keep our neighbors and the surrounding community informed about refinery operations so they have the most up-to-date information,” said Donald Austin, vice president of the Commerce City Refinery. “The roll out of our Refinery Notifications system is just one of the many actions that we are taking to respond to the needs and requests of the local community, and we look forward to doing our part to improve how we inform and connect with our nearby neighbors and all stakeholders.”
Residents or anyone interested can sign up for the notifications at Suncor.com/ccrsignup, and clicking the link to sign up, or by texting SUNCOR to 888777, the company said. “The “Refinery Notifications” system will inform nearby residents and employees of any events or incidents at the refinery that may be visible to the community, but do not require them to take immediate action,” Suncor said.