Colorado health officials flag high air pollution from Suncor refinery

The Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City released high levels of air pollution because of a malfunction Friday, according to a warning issued Saturday afternoon by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

It’s the second time this month that state health officials have warned about high air pollution from the refinery just north of Denver. The pollutants can cause people in the area to have asthma attacks or issues breathing while exercising outdoors.

The latest malfunction happened in Plant 1’s sulfur recovery equipment and caused “significant releases of excess air pollutants,” including sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, according to the state health department.

The release began around 11 p.m. Friday and the emissions were dropping by early Saturday morning, though the polluted air was expected to linger through the day Saturday. The emissions of sulfur dioxide were above a set safety limit of 250 parts per million for a 12-hour rolling average, though it was not clear from the state’s warning how much higher the emissions were.

Suncor sent out three public alerts about the incident on Saturday, beginning at 12:40 a.m. No one was injured and the malfunction was resolved by Saturday morning, the alerts said. The alerts also noted that high levels of sulfur dioxide were found at two air monitoring stations to the north of the refinery, but said that levels have since “largely returned to normal.”

“Suncor takes this incident seriously and we are continuing to fully stabilize the situation,” an alert around 5 p.m. Saturday read. “Our top priority is ensuring the health and safety of our people and the communities in which we operate.”

People in the area were encouraged to keep their windows closed Saturday and limit outdoor activities. Hydrogen sulfide can irritate eyes and skin, and can cause headaches, balance problems and tiredness, according to the state health agency.

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