Suncor Energy Battles to Stem Carcinogen Leaking Into Drinking Water
Analysis of water sampling data for Sand Creek and the South Platte River shows that benzene levels in those two bodies of water may be increasing, reports The Denver Post’s Bruce Finley. Benzene, a component of gasoline, is a known carcinogen especially affecting blood. Crews from Suncor Energy worked on meeting a Thursday (March 1) deadline to finish building a 1,000-foot-long, 30-foot-deep underground wall to hold back contaminated groundwater and thus keep the benzene from spreading from under Suncor’s oil refinery north of Denver.
It was three months ago that Colorado regulators ordered an intensive cleanup of what The Denver Post calls “one of the Rocky Mountain region’s long-running cases of industrial pollution.” Finley reports the following data from water samples taken by Suncor (a Canadian company) and given to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. This information was provided to The Post in response to written statements:
• At the confluence of Sand Creek and the South Platte, the latest test results show an average benzene concentration of 460 parts per billion in February, up 29 percent from an average of 356 ppb in December. The average for the past eight samples, taken in January and February, was 511 ppb. The federal drinking-water standard is 5 ppb.
• Farther downstream, beneath a bike bridge on the South Platte, tests show an average benzene concentration in February of 241 ppb, up nearly 10 percent from 220 ppb in December.
• Benzene measured in the past two weeks at a series of surface wells along Sand Creek also remained elevated: 170 ppb, 110 ppb, 93 ppb and 89 ppb.
As Huff Post Green writes, the South Platte River is a major source of drinking water for Aurora and Thornton, although the water is thought to be okay to drink because that water is treated. Suncor employees have had their blood tested for benzene they might have been exposed to from drinking water treated by the company’s in-house system, although results of those medical tests were not released, according to CBS4. CBS4 also writes that the spill may have started a year ago and not in late November as was first reported.
In a previous article, Finley reported that Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data from water samples taken by Suncor showed benzene concentrations reached 720 parts per billion (ppb) on January 9, which is 144 times higher than the 5 ppb national drinking water standard.
Huff Post Green quotes Joe Ryan, an environmental engineer at the University of Colorado: “Cancer in aquatic life, like fish, or in humans who use the water as drinking water might take a decade or two to show up. Fish would be much more susceptible to the hazard than humans.”
Beyond the refinery, groundwater contaminated with benzene has spread under neighboring property, including Denver Metro Wastewater’s Robert Hite Treatment Facility. Metro Wastewater managers there have given Suncor access to build the underground wall and ‘are concerned for our workers’ and contractors’ health and safety, and to meet all of our obligations under our (state pollution) discharge permit,’ agency spokesman Steve Frank said.
Meanwhile, Herb Gibson, Denver-area director for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, anticipates his open investigation of worker exposures to benzene will continue for several months.
The investigation has expanded beyond refinery locations where benzene was found in drinking water to include benzene in air, Gibson said. ‘We have received complaints.’
Huff Post Green quotes Suncor’s vice president of refining, John Gallagher: “We are applying significant resources to address the problem of underground contamination and will continue to do so until we make it right for the environment and this community.”
Image by Suncor Energy, Inc., used under Fair Use: Reporting.