An Environmental Task force created by the Colorado legislature submitted their recommendations to fix inequity in pollution effects this week.
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Coloradans disproportionately affected by pollution say they’re fighting for their lives.
People living next to some of the biggest polluters say they’re dealing with cancer, asthma, migraines and diabetes. The new Environmental Justice Act is trying to address these environmental health disparities.
A statewide task force finished a year of working on how to help communities cope with environmental concerns.
On Monday, recommendations were submitted to the legislature and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It suggested:
- Improving available data to help with the understanding of pollution in a community
- Identifying the best practices for community engagement
- Increasing cooperation between state agencies to identify a more holistic approach to reducing pollution
Researchers working with CDPHE data on the topic identified a number of areas that are the most burdened with environmental justice problems. These communities are both more prone to health problems from pollution and have fewer resources due to educational levels and income.
Problems near the Suncor refinery
Lucy Molina lives in Commerce City with her two teenage children and two dogs. They are 2 miles from the Suncor refinery, which produces diesel, asphalt and jet fuel.
She called the task force’s recommendations a “beginning step.”
“We still have lots of work to do,” she said.
Molina said her grandmother died from leukemia. She said cancer, diabetes and asthma are common ailments among her family and the community. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), diabetes may be tied to air pollution.
“That’s normal around here,” she said. “It’s normal to have cancer. It’s normal to have migraines and bloody noses. That’s normal. Well, it shouldn’t be.”
According to a 2020 study published by the American Cancer Society, there is “substantial evidence” of cancer caused by air pollution, which echoed research conducted by the World Health Organization.
In 2020, CDPHE announced a $9 million settlement between the department and Suncor for repeated air quality violations. CDPHE said that $2.64 million of the money went to projects to improve the situation in communities near Suncor.
Molina said that was not enough for the damage done to her neighborhood.
“It was pocket change – what was given to this community,” Molina said.
Molina said she has to use a water jug to cook and buys water bottles for her kids to drink from.
“Everybody here knows, we do not drink the water here,” Molina. “We do not cook with the water. That’s been happening since I was a kid.”
A representative for Suncor sent slides from a community meeting in response to 9NEWS’ request for comment that claims that air monitoring data does not reveal any “adverse health effects” and “calculated cancer risks were within the range deemed acceptable by the U.S. EPA and CDPHE.”
Communities most affected by pollution
9Wants to Know identified 250 communities throughout Colorado that are in the 80th percentile or higher for the environmental burden the community bears, using the CDPHE tool EnviroScreen. The EnviroScreen tool pulls in a number of factors, like pollution in the air, water and proximity to a highway, and measures how each community compares.
Joel Minor, Environmental Justice Manager at CDPHE said the department considers areas that are in the 80th percentile or higher to be worth additional focus and funding to fix issues.
Some of the communities with the most environmental burden are in Denver County, with 59 designated areas in the 80th percentile or higher, and Adams County with 42 communities in that range:
- Denver County: 59
- Adams County: 42
- Arapahoe County: 32
- El Paso County: 32
- Pueblo County: 27
- Jefferson County: 26
- Weld County: 18
- Boulder County: 8
- Larimer County: 3
- Montrose County: 1
- Rio Grande County: 1
- Mesa County: 1
Each of these communities have high…
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