By Mimi Madrid Columnist for The Denver Post
Love thy neighbor or so the teaching goes. Unless you are an oil giant, then you can belch poisonous gas in thy neighborhood and walk away. Offer a string of weak apologies, pay out a $9 million settlement, and repeat business as usual.
Suncor, the Canadian-owned oil refinery in Commerce City, has a “good-neighbor” marketing campaign. But residents see right through their public relations persona. The company’s violations keep blowing their cover.
It’s easy when you can see and smell all the operational malfunctions, spills, and toxic spikes. There were 108 malfunctions in the past five years to be exact. The company says that air quality in the neighborhood meets federal workplace standards.
On Dec. 4, a Magellan 6 pipe leaked diesel outside of Suncor. Commerce City tweeted about the road closure near 56th Ave. and Brighton Blvd. But the incident garnered very little news attention.
“Suncor does an amazing job of covering up their spills,” long- Globeville resident Jenny Santos told me in an interview on Monday.
Santos who lives about three miles away from the refinery learned about the spill from a friend. Not the news or Suncor. The lack of communication has made her even more distrustful.
“This government is here to protect corporations, but they call it American interest,” Santos said.
Latinx families like Santos’ are the most affected by the refinery’s non-compliance. This could be a large factor in why regulation enforcement has not been stricter.
Commerce City’s population is 47.4% people of Hispanic or Latinx descent. Almost half are monolingual Spanish-speakers. Elyria-Swansea’s Hispanic/ Latinx population comes at around 84%. And Globeville’s Hispanic/Latinx population is around 68%.
“My relatives, my neighbors, and I don’t have a voice in the process. We have to continue to endure what decision-makers chose for us,” Santos said.
Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, and Commerce City youth have endured the hidden price. Children play outside next to a polluted I-70 and a non-compliant refinery. Youth in this area have higher emergency room visits for asthma-related treatment.
No matter the health risks or pollution Suncor creates, it remains open.
Mimi Madrid is a Denver-raised writer who has worked in non-profits serving youth, LGBTQ, and Latinx communities.