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City leader calls for change after refinery keeps violating pollution rules

The city councilperson who represents the Commerce City ward that includes the Suncor refinery wants the state to take more action.

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — When Colorado's largest polluter spewed gases into the air this weekend, the state warned people to stay inside. That kind of warning is rare, but the Suncor refinery in Commerce City emitting gases that could make people sick isn't. 

Documents from the company show it violated state rules by releasing the same chemicals warned about over the weekend 40 times since the week of Christmas.

"Some days you don't even know if it's safe to go outside," Commerce City Councilperson Jennifer Allen-Thomas said. "It's kind of some days like living in fear."

Allen-Thomas said the fear of the refinery has lasted generations. She would know: she now represents the same part of Commerce City her dad once served. It's the same part of the city where Suncor keeps breaking state pollution rules. 

"They say the health department is involved, but nothing ever changes," she said. 

This weekend, the state health department issued an alert to neighbors advising them to stay inside after Suncor said it released two gases -- hydrogen sulflide and sulfur dioxide -- that the state said can make it harder to breathe. 

Suncor said its own air quality monitoring network didn't find pollution levels in the air that would immediately hurt people. 

"We can't keep going on like this because it's not only affecting people's health, but the water and environment," Allen-Thomas said. 

In its latest monthly report, Suncor said it broke state pollution rules more than 60 times in 30 days from March 15 to April 15. Since the week of Christmas, the refinery said it released unallowable amounts of hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide 40 times. 

"You don't know if you're sick because of the air you're breathing," Allen-Thomas said. "Something needs to happen."

She said she's dealing with the same issues her dad once confronted in his role on city council. Now she wants change -- action from state regulators, fines against Suncor or perhaps even compensation for people who live close by -- so the next generation won't have to fear the refinery too.

"I don't want anyone to lose their jobs, but let's make sure the residents in Commerce City – all of Commerce City -- are safe," she said. 

A Suncor spokesperson said she was not going to comment on concerns raised by an elected official.


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