Dr. Michael Lumpkin has faced all kinds of tough questions from politicians, regulators, environmentalists, businesses and community activists in his 20-plus years as a toxicologist.

But his latest community engagement session to discuss the Commerce City North Denver (CCND) Air Monitoring program brought a new kind of crowd for Dr. Lumpkin – elementary-aged summer school students.

“We had invited a number of people in the community to view and learn about the mobile monitoring van and one of the 10 air monitoring stations, which is located at Alsup Elementary School in Commerce City,” says Dr. Lumpkin, a Senior Toxicologist with the consulting firm CTEH. “With summer school in session, we also saw an opportunity to educate younger community members, so we invited teachers to bring their students out. And you know what? It was terrific. They had all kinds of different questions for us that you might not normally get in an open house or town hall. But they were curious and it’s important for them to know what we are doing in their community.”

The presentation was the third in a series of events where Dr. Lumpkin joined with other scientists from Montrose Air Quality Services as well as Suncor officials to speak with community members about air monitoring science and technology. They also shared information about the program, which Suncor voluntarily launched in August 2021 to provide the Commerce City and North Denver communities with easy-to-access air monitoring information and improve transparency. Montrose maintains and operates the network of 10 monitoring stations, including the one at Alsup Elementary, to provide continuous, near real-time air monitoring data. Montrose also conducts periodic real-time air monitoring throughout six different Commerce City and North Denver neighbourhoods with the mobile monitoring van. The data, along with the latest reports, can be viewed at https://www.ccnd-air.com/.

A group of children seated on the ground facing two adults. The adults are presenting to the children.
Toxicologist Dr. Michael Lumpkin and senior communications advisor at Suncor’s U.S. refinery, Loa Esquilin Garcia, met with students from Alsup Elementary School in Commerce City to discuss Suncor’s air monitoring program that gives residents of Commerce City and North Denver access to air monitoring information.

The community engagement approach for CCND Air Monitoring is something of a change for Dr. Lumpkin, who has spent much of his career engaging with communities in the aftermath of emergencies.

“For much of my career, I would interact with communities after there was an incident. This sort of proactive community outreach is unique in the United States and I would encourage any large industrial facility operating near a community to look at what Montrose and Suncor are doing here,” says Dr. Lumpkin.

Donald Austin, Vice President of Suncor’s Commerce City Refinery, sees the engagement sessions as an important promise kept by Suncor.

“We are committed to being transparent with the community and sharing the information and answering questions about the program is an important part of that commitment,” says Donald.

More sessions are anticipated for later in the year, where Dr. Lumpkin hopes to speak with the parents of the summer school students he visited.

“My job isn’t conducting experiments with test tubes or even just analyzing the data,” he says. “An important part of this is teaching the public how to look at these numbers so they understand what the data means. To do that, you need to step out of the laboratory and into the community.”