Fire dept. says sulfur dioxide emitted from Colorado plant

EnergyAssociated Press

A refinery near Denver sent plumes of orange and black smoke into the air Friday after a power failure shut the plant down, leading authorities to tell people within a 1.5 mile radius of the Suncor Energy plant to remain indoors.

The company said the plumes, seen from downtown Denver, were "visible emissions" from the refinery in Commerce City but a spokeswoman couldn't immediately provide details about what the emissions were. However, the Denver Fire Capt. Greg Pixley said Suncor notified authorities that it was releasing sulfur dioxide, a gas created by the burning of sulfur.

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The Environmental Protection Agency says short-term exposure to the gas can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult, especially the young, the elderly and those with asthma.

Suncor spokeswoman Nicole Fisher said the company is monitoring the air around the 98,000-barrel-a-day refinery, which produces gasoline, diesel fuel and asphalt.

Nearby Interstate 270 was temporarily shut down as firefighters responded to the refinery.

The power outage occurred around noon and the smoke dissipated by mid-afternoon.