EPA says Colo. refinery contamination declining

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(AP) — Federal officials said Friday that initial water quality tests show levels of toxic chemicals are declining after a gasoline-like substance was detected seeping into a creek from a Denver-area refinery, but environmentalists said even one barrel of the toxic brew is too much.

An initial report the Environmental Protection Agency released Friday says the chemicals are rapidly dissipating because of evaporation and dilution. The agency's final report is expected to take up to 10 days.

The seep from the Suncor Energy refinery into Sand Creek was detected this week, and officials were concerned it would flow into the South Platte River, which a major source of drinking water, wildlife habitat and agricultural water for Colorado and Nebraska.

Gasoline contains known and suspected carcinogens, the EPA said, and the hazardous chemicals found in the creek include benzene and toluene.

Matthew Allen, spokesman for the EPA, said the decreasing levels are good news because they show the containment efforts are working. Jeremy Nichols of the environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians disputed that, saying the evaporation of dangerous chemicals into the air and dilution of major water supplies are still hazardous.

"We don't want it going into the air or into the water," Nichols said.

The group sent a notice to Suncor Energy Inc. on Friday giving the Calgary, Alberta, company 60 days to resolve the issues or face legal action under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

The EPA said crews have recovered between 20 and 50 gallons of an oily substance, but it was unclear how much may have seeped into the creek or made it into the river.

John Gallagher, Suncor Energy USA vice president, said the cleanup efforts have made a significant improvement on the creek and river. He said the evaporation and dilution is only occurring in a small part of the waterways and is "neither a health hazard or a concern."

EPA spokesman Curtis Kimbel said Friday some of the contamination has reached the South Platte, but people downstream have been notified and no problems were reported. The EPA has blocked public access to the contamination zone.

Wildlife officials said there is no indication the spill has harmed animals.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife representative walked along the creek when the spill was first discovered and also returned Friday, finding no impact to fish or wildlife, agency spokesman Theo Stein said.

Kimbel said Suncor is building a 3-foot-wide, 230-foot-long trench to capture the chemicals, with a goal of stopping the contamination before cleanup begins. Suncor says a crew of about 60 people working around the clock has stopped the material from getting into the creek.

Suncor's refinery produces jet fuel, gasoline, diesel fuel, and asphalt, mostly from oil from Colorado and Wyoming.

Colorado state health officials fear that a leaky underground pipe that leads to a tank at the refinery might have leaked a "sizable" amount of petroleum near the South Platte River.

The leak reported by the refinery this summer is about a half-mile away from where an oily substance began seeping into Sand Creek on Monday. More tests are needed to confirm the leak is the source.

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