EPA Fines Suncor $300,000 for Toxicity Violations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a $300,030 settlement with the Suncor Energy USA Inc. Commerce City Refinery (Suncor) to resolve alleged violations of toxic chemical- related regulations.

The settlement addresses chemical accident prevention, toxic chemical release reporting and community right-to-know violations at the refinery, which the EPA discovered during an inspection conducted from Sept. 14-17, 2020.

Suncor will pay $60,000 in civil penalties. It will also spend at least $240,030 on emergency response equipment as a Supplemental Environmental Project to enhance the chemical release accident response capabilities of the South Adams County Fire Department in Commerce City.

“Facilities must properly handle hazardous substances to prevent dangerous chemical accidents and follow reporting requirements when releases occur,” said KC Becker, EPA regional administrator. “If they don’t, EPA will hold them accountable. We are pleased that Suncor is implementing critical safety measures to protect workers and the community.”

The inspection focused on the root causes related to the catalyst release that occurred on Dec. 11, 2019, among other areas.

The EPA found that Suncor violated the Risk Management Program under the Clean Air Act, which is aimed at preventing accidental releases of chemicals that can have serious consequences for public health, safety and the environment.

Specifically, Suncor failed to maintain correct process safety information, complete outstanding process hazard analyses, update operating procedures and follow management of change procedures.

It also found violations of the toxic chemical release reporting requirements under the Emergency Planning and Community Rightto- Know Act and reporting requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, which are designed to notify the community of toxic releases from facilities to help prepare for and protect against chemical accidents.

Specifically, Suncor failed to promptly report two releases and failed to report sulfuric acid in their industrial batteries to the local emergency responders, according to the EPA.

Suncor certified that it addressed these findings.

The EPA announced in August that it issued an order responding to two petitions objecting to the renewal of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) Clean Air Act Title V operating permit for Plant 2 at the Suncor refinery in Commerce City.

One petition was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Association, Cultivando, Colorado Latino Forum, GreenLatinos, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club.

The second petition was filed by 350 Colorado. EPA’s action denies 350 Colorado’s petition and partially grants and partially denies Earthjustice’s petition, requiring CDPHE to resolve EPA’s objections before issuing a revised permit. The action does not invalidate Suncor’s permit or prevent Plant 2 from continuing to operate while CDPHE addresses the order.

“Improving air quality for the underserved communities affected by harmful air emissions from the Suncor refinery is a shared priority for EPA and CDPHE,” Becker said. “EPA will continue to work with Colorado to secure the refinery’s compliance with laws and regulations and protect the health of nearby residents.”

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