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Context on benzene reading at Bella Romero

Posted on 03/10/2020
Context on benzene reading at Bella Romero

Following the November 25, 2019, news release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announcing an elevated reading of benzene at the Bella Romero school in Greeley, the Weld County Board of Commissioners reached out to independent environment and health experts from a global engineering firm for confirmation and further clarification.

“The only numbers available to the public related to air-quality readings are those from the state. Weld County wanted a highly credible third-party firm to review the state’s data and characterization and provide us with unbiased, reliable information,” said Commissioner Chair Mike Freeman.

The county engaged experts from the Denver office of Ramboll, a global, multi-disciplinary engineering, design and consultancy company with whom the commissioners had previous discussions following the passage of Senate Bill 19-181. Ramboll experts reviewed the CDPHE release and provided further context on measuring and understanding levels – including the one-time elevated reading reported by CDPHE.

“While CDPHE did report an elevated reading of 10.24 parts per billion (ppb) one time in November, the experts at Ramboll put the reading into context by equating that level to what one would be exposed to while standing on a street corner in an urban environment, like Denver,” said Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer.

“We are concerned,” said Commissioner Kirkmeyer. “The state health department report created unnecessary fear among the families and children who live near the school and then has not been available to address these fears or answer questions.”

To date, the state has not provided any follow-up information to the school or the county health department, with whom they committed to remain in contact for further air quality monitoring.

“The timing of the CDPHE release made it difficult, if not impossible, for the county to react or respond in a meaningful way,” said Commissioner Steve Moreno. “We were notified only 16 minutes before the media.” The release also came just days after the state declined Weld County’s offer to partner on air-quality monitoring of pre-production oil and gas activities in Weld County, and three weeks prior to the state Air Quality Control Commission’s public hearing in Loveland on new regulations.

“When you connect the dots on the timeline, it does seem politically motivated,” Commissioner Scott James said. “The state recorded the ‘elevated’ reading at the beginning of November, told the families three weeks later, held air quality meetings weeks after that, and then disappeared.”

Upon receiving and vetting Ramboll’s report, the board met with the Greeley/Evans District 6 Superintendent and staff to provide them with the information the county had learned.

“Regardless of your personal opinion about oil and gas production, information relating to matters concerning the public’s health should not be politicized to further an agenda,” said Commissioner Kevin Ross.

The board continues to work with Ramboll on air-quality monitoring solutions and information vetting.



October 2019: Weld County begins talks with Ramboll (an engineering, design and consultancy company) to determine if they could provide assistance with gathering, studying, reviewing and consulting on issues of air quality in preparation of the state’s continued implementation of SB 19-181. Ramboll’s knowledgeable staff of scientists, toxicologists and other specialists would be extremely helpful for Weld County staff in understanding the intricacies of air quality monitoring as well as for commissioners when testifying to legislators.

10/30/19: Weld County Commissioners send a letter to Governor Jared Polis, Executive Director of CDPHE, Jill Ryan and Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Dan Gibbs offering to partner with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and the CDPHE to implement additional monitoring and modeling of pre-production oil and gas activities in Weld County.

11/8/19: The county receives a letter from COGCC Director Jeff Robbins and Director of Environmental Programs for CDPHE John Putnam declining Weld County’s offer, stating: “…given the importance of ensuring consistency in the data-gathering methodologies at all of the oil and gas locations under consideration…as well as the public’s desire for an independent and timely, open and transparent process, we must respectfully decline your offer to combine efforts at this stage.”

11/25/19, 11:45 a.m.: CDPHE alerts the Weld County Health Director Dr. Mark Wallace that a news release will be sent out that day regarding information about benzene levels at Bella Romero. Dr. Wallace informs (via phone) the Communications Director, Jennifer Finch, of the impending release.

11/25/19, 12:01 p.m.: Dr. Wallace receives the news release from Jessica Bralish at CDPHE.

11/25/19, 12:17 p.m.: Dr. Wallace forwards the release to Finch and the Board of Commissioners. The release states the elevated measurement was detected on November 5, 2019, but not confirmed until the week of November 18.

12/16/20: Colorado Air Quality Control Commission holds scheduled public hearing on air quality in Loveland.

2/24/20: Dr. Wallace and staff report no knowledge or information regarding any follow-up by CDPHE regarding the elevated level report.