Health chief: No apparent danger from plume of orange smoke released at Suncor refinery

Posted at 12:44 PM, Oct 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-15 00:29:18-04

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Officials have yet to determine what type of chemical was released or if it was hazardous when a plume of orange smoke emanated from the Suncor Refinery in Commerce City Friday afternoon.

The smoke was caused by a power outage and prompted officials to issue a shelter in place order, though no evacuation was ever ordered. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it does not appear the release poses any immediate risk to the surrounding community. It is talking with Suncor officials to determine the cause of the malfunction.

Denver Fire Department said they dispatched hazmat crews to assist South Adams County Fire Protection District as the companies investigate what could be creating the unusual smoke. 

Denver Fire officials initially believed the released chemical was sulfur dioxide, but further testing came back negative. Crews are still testing the area to determine the exact chemical and its level of toxicity. South Adams Fire says air quality readings have shown no hazardous readings and confirmed no toxic chemicals were released.

Suncor says the refinery lost power around noon, which "resulted in an operation upset," according to the company. It says the plume started emitting from refinery towers shortly afterward.

A spokeswoman for the company says it is working to stabilize the plant and monitoring nearby air quality. The spokeswoman, Nicole Fisher, said regulators have been notified.

Witnesses described the scene as "apocalyptic."

"All of a sudden, it felt like it was the end of the world coming," said witness Michael Deifik.

"It kind of looked like the Wizard of Oz -- kind of green-yellow smoke," said Blake Johnson.

Road closures. 

Starting at about 1 p.m., officials closed I-270 in both directions from I-70 to I-76 due to official response to the Suncor plant. 

The closure didn't last long, with officials re-opening the road minutes later. Backups are expected on the road.

Suncor also said Brighton Boulevard is closed for the time being.

Suncor's history with odd smoke. 

Similar stories have emanated from Suncor in the past -- most recently in May of 2012. Fire officials investigated a similar looking plume of smoke from one of the oil refinery's towers. 

The Environmental Protection Agency also investigated after Suncor released a statement explaining what caused the smoke. 

"There was an interruption with one of the process units which uses the 'catalyst,'" which is a clay dust used in processing.

The officials said the interruption caused the refinery's stacks to throw out some of the catalyst. 

That was ruled not threatening to the health of any residents at that time. 

What is Suncor?

Suncor Refinery is a North American-based energy company with refineries both in Canada and the United States. 

The company has one refinery in Colorado, situated in Commerce City. That plant produces 98,000 barrels per day, producing gasoline, diesel fuel and paving-grade asphalt

Smoke emitted from the refinery's smoke stacks is typically supposed to be white. 

Denver7 is following this developing story. Refresh for updates. 


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