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Suncor Equipment Malfunction Produces Yellow Smoke Over Commerce City

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4) - The Suncor Commerce City refinery experienced an equipment malfunction Tuesday evening, resulting in a yellow smoke plume over the facility. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was notified around 6 p.m. that one of the Suncor air blowers had failed.

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Suncor shut down the failing unit, and state officials do not believe there is an ongoing risk to the community. The refinery's air blowers keep air and catalyst circulating. This malfunction led to the release of a yellow, clay-like catalyst in the air.

"I'm absolutely fed up with it," said Pamela, who saw the yellow substance while driving to her home just down the street from the refinery. " I understand that we purchased these homes, we know that it's in an industrial area, but there are regulations in place and Suncor needs to follow them."

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Earlier this month, CDPHE announced a $9 million settlement agreement with Suncor Energy to resolve more than 100 air pollution violations committed by the company's Commerce City oil refinery. Officials are calling the settlement "historic," as it is the largest penalty against a single facility for air pollution violations in the state's history.

READ MORE: 'Historic' $9 Million Fine Issued Against Suncor Energy Refinery In Commerce City

The settlement also resolves an incident in December, when a clay-like catalyst spewed from the refinery causing ash to cover cars and homes in several surrounding communities. Suncor said the substance was non-hazardous, and the result of putting too much torch oil into what's called a fluidized catalytic cracker unit.

READ MORE: Suncor To Restart Equipment Responsible For Smoke & Ash

Officials with CDPHE said they closely monitoring the incident Tuesday night at Suncor and will conduct a follow up investigation.

As a precautionary measure, Suncor sounded a vapor release alarm and initiated the refinery's response plan. The company blocked off Brighton Boulevard for safety reasons and employees at the refinery successfully shut down the piece of equipment.

"Suncor's Commerce City refinery experienced an equipment malfunction in its Plant 2 fluidized catalytic cracker (FCC) unit, resulting in an abnormal release of emissions that was visible in the community. This is the same unit that experienced an issue on December 11 during start-up. Following the December 11 incident, we committed to do better. Clearly, yesterday is not an example of doing better and we have more work to do," said Donald Austin, VP of Suncor's Commerce City Refinery, in an emailed statement.

The company told state health officials that they notified the Air Pollution Control Division and the Adams County Local Emergency Planning Committee. Suncor has also been in communication with the Tri County Health Department.

"There are comprehensive health impacts that occur here, and the refinery is responsible for more than one of them," said Ean Thomas Tafoya, Co-Chair of the Colorado Latino Forum." The water quality and air quality are just two components that they are contributing to."

Security personnel at Suncor used handheld devices to monitor the area for a range of materials, including hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, and found no elevated levels. Suncor officials said they would review data from air monitors around the Suncor refinery.

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