Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment updates Suncor cleanup orders to address evolving situation

abarrelfullabarrelfull wrote on 01 Jan 2012 10:12
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The Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment today issued additional orders to Suncor Energy (USA) Inc. as the company works to clean up a release of petroleum products from its Commerce City refinery.

Department officials learned late Thursday of benzene contamination in the refinery‟s drinking water. The department today ordered Suncor to discontinue use of all domestic water across the entire facility that could expose employees to ingesting or inhaling contaminants. By Jan. 5, the company must sample all the taps in its buildings. Suncor independently implemented the use of bottled water at its facility before receiving the order. The source of the drinking water contamination is being investigated and the bottled water order will remain in effect until the source is determined and corrected, and subsequent sampling proves the water meets drinking water standards.

Although the refinery gets its drinking water from a Denver Water tap, the facility has a closed distribution system. According to Suncor officials, preliminary tests showed the contamination is confined to refinery property and does not pose a threat to offsite drinking water users. Nevertheless, the company has until Jan. 5 to work with Denver Water to confirm there are no water distribution lines passing nearby or across the refinery property that could be affected by problems with Suncor‟s private water distribution system.

The Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division is coordinating with the
Colorado Water Quality Control Division, the Environmental Protection Agency, Tri-County
Health Department, Denver Water and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on the drinking water issue, which is not known to be linked to a late November hydrocarbon release from the refinery to Sand Creek. Today‟s order also updates cleanup measures relating to that release.

“Incident response measures in late November and early December have successfully contained petroleum products floating on groundwater that had been seeping into Sand Creek from the Suncor refinery, and the company has begun to implement additional actions required by our Dec. 1 order,” said Rob Beierle, environmental protection specialist with the department. “However, it now appears that petroleum dissolved in groundwater still is entering the creek. Today„s Update and Notice of Determination for Additional Work Requirements fine-tunes cleanup efforts and responds to changing conditions.”

The order requires Suncor to install and operate an air sparging system, similar to a fish
tank aerator, in Sand Creek no later than Friday, Jan. 6. This process will help benzene and other petroleum compounds dissolved in the water to evaporate and exhaust to outside air.

The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division is aware of the plan and the additional vapors in the area will not pose a significant public health risk.

By Jan. 31, Suncor must install and operate a second interceptor trench above the existing trench near the bank of Sand Creek to capture additional hydrocarbons floating on groundwater. Suncor must continue to operate the first trench, installed in early December, and expand it if necessary. Suncor is in the process of making adjustments to that trench to improve its effectiveness. Also by Jan. 31, Suncor must install and operate a soil vapor extraction system between the two trenches to remove contaminants from the soil on the creek bank.

The Dec. 1 order required Suncor to sample indoor air in buildings on Denver Metro
Wastewater Reclamation District property adjacent to the refinery. As a result, soil vapor
extraction systems already have been installed in two of the district‟s buildings. Suncor has

sampled indoor air at approximately 50 of the 57 buildings at the site, and must take additional actions to protect workers at the wastewater district‟s facility.

All the requirements of the Dec. 1 order remain in effect, including daily bank inspections of Sand Creek and water sampling in the creek and South Platte River. Suncor is responsible for cleaning up the effects of releases from its refinery regardless of how far downstream they extend.

Beierle emphasized that public water systems downstream are not at risk. “Sand Creek is not a drinking water source, and downstream water utilities on the South Platte River have been kept informed and are taking steps to protect drinking water supplies,” he said. “Also, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirms there have been no fish kills reported as a result of releases from the Suncor facility.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will continue to update the public as the situation changes and additional orders refining the cleanup operation are issued.

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