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Protesters target Suncor Energy for slow clean up of toxic leak

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo.  – About two dozen activists gathered at the Suncor Energy refinery Sunday afternoon to voice concerns over the slow cleanup of a toxic chemical leak near the South Platte River.

Organizers of the event believe Suncor Energy should be doing more to ensure a timely cleanup since the spill was first reported in November. 

"We believe that the trenching and groundwater treatment systems on both Suncor and Metro Wastewater property will effectively isolate liquid hydrocarbons and dramatically lower the dissolved benzene level in Sand Creek. We will continue to work  hard to meet all regulatory requirements and remain committed to fixing the problem," said Lisha Burnett, a spokesperson for Suncor Energy.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment fined Suncor Energy $2.2 million for leaking unsafe amounts of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, into the environment.

State inspectors discovered violations of state and federal requirements during an inspection of the Commerce City refinery in the summer of 2010.

Among the state’s findings was Suncor’s failure to properly inspect and maintain equipment vital to the handling of benzene in process wastewater, CDPHE officials said Monday.

“As a result, Suncor exceeded the allowable uncontrolled benzene quantity in both 2008 and 2009. The national emission standard for benzene waste operations applies to equipment and processes that treat, store or dispose of benzene waste,” said Will Allison, Air Pollution Control Division director for the CDPHE.

In December 2011, a massive cleanup effort was initiated after an oily black sludge containing benzene leaked into the Sand Creek waterway, which feeds the South Platte River, from Suncor.

“We have no evidence to suggest the benzene-related violations discovered during our 2010 inspection are connected to the circumstances that led to the Sand Creek contamination,” Allison said.

Suncor also was cited for failure to conduct periodic equipment inspections, implement an annual training program for employees and complete the development of standard operating procedures for certain control equipment.