An oil leak coming from a Suncor refinery in Commerce City, CO, is spilling a dangerous amount of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, into a nearby creek.

Benzene levels in Sand Creek are 400 times the amount for drinking water standards, said officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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The partial results are from five samples taken at various locations along the creek near the Suncor Plant.

The EPA thinks the test results are further proof the leak is a refined gasoline of some type. So far, no public health warnings are out, but the EPA is urging people not to drink water in Sand Creek.

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Benzene is a highly-toxic chemical linked to leukemia.

“The material is flowing underground, it flowed off the Suncor property, under the Metro Wastewater treatment property then into the river,” said Curtis Kimbel, EPA emergency response manager.

EPA lab results released Thursday night show benzene concentrations ranging from 2,000 parts per billion around the location of the seep and 480 ppb where the creek enters the South Platte. The national drinking water standard is 5 ppb.

Some of the oil did get into the South Platte River.

Suncor says its 60 person emergency response team was able to get the area contained.

“We believe we have stopped all of the materials from entering the water ways at this point. The progress we’ve made today, we’ve started building a trench between the diked area, and we’re going to build a trench there for a secondary level of protection,” said John Gallagher, Suncor Energy refining vice president.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) also issued a written order demanding Suncor follow certain orders.

In a news release sent out on Thursday afternoon, the CDPHE said Suncor must have the oil seep cleaned up by March 1, 2012.

The CDPHE says it also is ordering Suncor to perform daily inspections to look for evidence of the seep and if it finds any, the company has to collect and sample the liquid.
“It’s a very small leak, it’s less than one barrel of oil but we are taking it very seriously,” said Chief Operating Officer Steve Williams, who will become chief executive in May.

“It’s a small leak but we are actively cleaning it up with the authorities,” he said.

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