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Air Monitoring Program Will Enable Commerce City Residents To Learn About Suncor Energy Emissions

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4) - Commerce city residents hoping to keep a constant eye on the nearby Suncor Energy refinery will soon be able to utilize an air monitoring program run by a local nonprofit organization.

On Sunday, Cultivando, a Commerce City-based organization focused on uplifting the Latinx community, shared details about its upcoming air monitoring program with community members at EcoFiesta 2021. The event was held at Fairfax Park and organized by several local organizations, including Cultivando and 350 Colorado.

"We've given them decades to clean up their act, and now it's our opportunity to try and see what we can do," said Olga González, Executive Director of Cultivando.

Last year, Suncor Energy entered a $9 million settlement agreement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2020 to resolve more than 100 air pollution violations. Money from the settlement will help fund Cultivando's program.

According to González, the group will utilize two monitors.  One of those monitors will be stationary, while the other will be moved every two weeks.

The program is expected to launch in the fall and will include a bilingual website where community members can see what pollutants are in the air. Cultivando will also offer in-home monitors and plans to begin a video project where Commerce City residents can share their experiences.

"We want answers," González said. "We're hoping to dignify their stories and to demonstrate what is actually coming out of the refinery so people can actually make informed decisions about their health."

Suncor is currently in the process of rolling out its own air monitoring program after seeking community input for months. The program will use ten monitors to detect common compounds associated with refinery emissions and display them in near real-time on a publicly available online dashboard.

Third-party company Montrose Air Quality Services helped develop the program and will maintain it after the expected late summer launch.

"Suncor strongly supports air monitoring and welcomes the opportunity to work collaboratively together with other organizations conducting air monitoring for the benefit of the communities of Commerce City and North Denver," a spokeswoman for Suncor said Sunday evening.

Commerce City residents like Renee Millard-Chacon remain skeptical the company can monitor itself. Others on Sunday were critical of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as well.

Implementation of Suncor and Cultivando's new air monitoring programs come as the operating permit for plant 2 at the refinery is up for renewal.

"We need to recognize when there's a disparity and we need to heal it when you have the capability, especially when you have the funding to change it," Millard-Chacon said. "We're not going to fix this problem with the same thinking that got us in there."

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