EPA Reaches Settlement with Suncor Over Clean Air Act Fuels Violations at Colorado Refineries

September 11, 2023
EPA Reaches Settlement with Suncor Over Clean Air Act Fuels Violations at Colorado Refineries
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with Suncor Energy (U.S.A.) Inc. (Suncor) resolving alleged violations of the Clean Air Act’s fuels requirements at Suncor’s Commerce City, Colorado, refining operations. The noncompliant fuel produced by Suncor resulted in excess amounts of hazardous air pollution, such as carcinogenic benzene and volatile organic compounds released into the air and neighboring communities. Suncor will pay a $160,660 civil penalty and has agreed to implement a supplemental environmental project which requires the company to spend at least $600,000 purchasing or subsidizing the purchase of electric lawn and garden equipment that will be provided to residents, schools and local governments in the Commerce City/Denver area.
“This settlement demonstrates that EPA will hold refineries accountable when the fuel they produce fails to meet legal requirements,” said Assistant Administrator David M. Uhlmann of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement and the supplemental environmental project that Suncor agreed to include will provide better air quality for residents affected by Suncor’s misconduct.”
Suncor operates two refineries in Commerce City, Colorado, that produce petroleum products, including gasoline. The settlement resolves claims relating to the benzene content and Reid vapor pressure (RVP) of gasoline that Suncor produced. In 2021, Suncor produced over 32 million gallons of gasoline at its Commerce City East Refinery with an average benzene concentration of 1.77 volume percent, which was above the maximum 1.30 volume percent standard. In June 2022, Suncor produced over 1 million gallons of summer gasoline at its Commerce City West Refinery with an RVP of 7.9 pounds per square inch (psi), which was above the 7.8 psi standard. Suncor notified the EPA about both violations.
Suncor has agreed to implement a supplemental environmental project that requires the company to spend at least $600,000 purchasing or subsidizing the purchase of electric lawn and garden equipment, including zero-emission residential and commercial lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers, edgers, cutters and chainsaws, as well as battery packs, chargers and accessories that are necessary to support use of the electric equipment. The electric lawn and garden equipment will be distributed to residents that live near Suncor’s Commerce City refineries and local governments and schools located within Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld Counties in Colorado. Suncor will also scrap or destroy the gasoline- or diesel-powered lawn and garden equipment that will be replaced by the electric equipment.
The environmental project will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene, as well as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases. VOCs include a variety of chemicals that may produce adverse health effects such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and damage to the liver, kidney and the central nervous system. VOCs also contribute to the formation of ground level ozone. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly and anyone with lung diseases such as asthma. Ground level ozone can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.
This supplemental environmental project will reduce these air pollution risks to local communities with environmental justice (EJ) concerns in the Commerce City – North Denver area. The results from EJScreen, EPA’s Environmental Justice screening and mapping tool, suggest a significant potential for EJ concerns in the area due to a combination of high pollution burden and population vulnerability.
U.S. Department of Labor Urges Workers To Be Aware of Hazards in Hurricane Recovery Efforts
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration urges response and recovery crews, as well as residents in areas affected by Hurricane Idalia to be aware of hazards caused by flooding, power loss, structural damage, fallen trees and storm debris. 
Storm recovery efforts may involve hazards related to restoring electricity and communications, removing debris, repairing water damage, repairing or replacing roofs and trimming trees. Only individuals with proper training, equipment and experience should conduct recovery and cleanup activities.
Protective measures after a weather disaster should include the following:
  • Evaluating the work area for hazards.
  • Assessing the stability of structures and walking surfaces.
  • Ensuring fall protection when working from elevated surfaces.
  • Assuming all power lines are live.
  • Operating chainsaws, portable generators, ladders and other equipment properly.
  • Using personal protective equipment, such as gloves, hard hats, hearing, foot and eye protection.
Nevada-Based Thatcher Agrees To Pay Penalty To Settle Claims of Chemical Safety Violations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with Thatcher Company of Nevada, Inc. to resolve claims of Clean Air Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act violations at the company's Sparks-based facility. At the time of EPA’s inspection, the facility stored and redistributed chemicals including chlorine and sulfur dioxide, regulated toxic substances.
Based upon information obtained during a November 2021 inspection and subsequent investigation, EPA determined that the facility did not have the required safety information for equipment inside of its chemical storage and repackaging warehouse, such as information to show that its ventilation system complied with industry standards and safety information for its scrubber to mitigate potential hazardous releases. EPA also determined that Thatcher failed to check the safety performance history of its contractors before selection, had inconsistencies between written and actual operating procedures, and needed to implement the recommendations from its analysis of hazards in its chemical processes.
"It's essential that facilities properly handle regulated toxic substances," said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. "EPA will not hesitate to enforce federal laws designed to prevent chemical accidents that endanger public safety."
As part of the settlement, Thatcher will pay a $69,396 penalty. In addition, the facility agreed to complete a supplemental environmental project valued at $110,756 to purchase emergency response equipment for the Sparks Fire Department. Specifically, the company will buy portable shelters and shelter accessories that can be used to respond to emergencies involving hazardous materials.
The facility has returned to compliance with the violations observed during EPA's inspection.
About Clean Air Act Section 112(r):
Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act requires companies that use regulated flammable and toxic substances to develop and implement a Risk Management Program. An adequately designed Risk Management Program includes the following:
  • A hazard assessment that details the potential effects of an accidental release, an accident history of the last five years, and an evaluation of worst-case and alternative accidental release scenarios.
  • A prevention program that includes safety precautions and maintenance, monitoring, and employee training measures.
  • An emergency response program that spells out emergency health care, employee training measures, and procedures for informing the public and response agencies (e.g., the fire department) should an accident occur.
Supplemental Environmental Projects:
A supplemental environmental project is an environmentally beneficial project or activity that is not required by law, but that a party agrees to undertake as part of the settlement of an enforcement action. Such projects or activities go beyond what could legally be required of the defendant, and secure environmental and/or public health benefits in addition to those achieved by compliance with the law.
Department of Labor Finds Houston-Area Manufacturer Failed To Correct 2022 Hazards
The U.S. Department of Labor has cited a Stafford engine component manufacturer again for failing to correct safety hazards that caused an employee's finger amputation in March 2022.
Inspectors with the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration returned to Air Starter Components Inc. in March 2023 as part of a follow-up investigation after a worker's hand was caught in a polishing machine that lacked required machine safety guards.
The follow-up investigation led OSHA to cite the company for two repeat violations for failing to adjust bench grinders properly and for not posting 2022 OSHA injury and illness logs as required. Inspectors also identified 14 serious violations for hazards related to a spray booth; unguarded projected shaft ends, belts and pulleys on a horizontal lathe; air compressors operating at more than 30 pounds per square inch; electrical equipment used beyond its safe limits and without proper grounding; exposed electrical wires; and extension cords used in place of required permanent wiring. OSHA proposed $127,187 in penalties after its follow-up inspection.
In addition, the agency issued failing to abate citations to Air Starter Components for not correcting the hazards identified in the earlier inspection and for not including a 2022 recordable injury on its OSHA 300 log. While the company had entered into an agreement with OSHA to address its violations, no abatement documentation was provided. The agency assessed the company with an additional $171,063 in penalties for failing to remedy its 2022 violations.
In total, the company faces $298,250 in proposed penalties.
"Rather than correcting the hazards we identified in 2022, Air Starter Components was still operating equipment without required safety guards and doing so resulted in another worker suffering a debilitating injury," explained OSHA Area Director Mark Briggs in Houston. "Complying with safety standards is not optional. Employers who fail to follow required procedures will be held accountable."
Founded in 1988, Air Starter Components Inc. manufactures and services air starters and other engine components and parts sold through dealers on six continents. Headquartered in Stafford, the company also operates sales and service centers in New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
NIOSH Publishes Guide for Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss
A new online guide for preventing occupational hearing loss is available from NIOSH. Intended for use by employers and safety professionals, the guide follows the structure of a NIOSH hearing loss prevention program and contains separate sections that explain how to measure noise exposure, summarize ways to eliminate or reduce noise, provide examples of engineering and administrative controls, outline considerations for choosing hearing protection, and describe practices for recordkeeping.
Recommendations for engineering controls to lower noise levels include reducing the speed of moving parts, eliminating restricted flow in pipes and ducts, isolating vibration in machinery, reducing vibrating parts and surfaces, using connectors that limit the transfer of vibrations to surfaces, keeping noisy machinery away from walls and surfaces that reflect sound, adding sound absorption materials, building enclosures around equipment, and installing barriers that block high frequency noise.

Access the guide and learn more about hearing loss prevention programs on the NIOSH website.
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