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Popular fishing holes near Colorado Springs given the all clear after contamination

For the first time in nearly a decade, anglers at Willow Springs Ponds in Fountain can eat what they catch without worrying about poisoned fish.

At least that’s the word from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which lifted a fish consumption advisory that’s been in place at the popular fishing holes since 2007, according to an announcement Tuesday by El Paso County.

The move comes nearly 20 years after the carcinogen tetrachloroethene (PCE) was discovered in the ponds, part of a plume of contaminated groundwater that stretched for miles, reaching an aquifer that provides drinking water for Fountain, Security and Widefield.

The pollution was traced to the Schlage Lock manufacturing facility in Security, which used solvents containing PCEs to clean metal parts as part of the manufacturing process, said El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, who helped fight to compel the company to assist in cleanup efforts.

PCEs normally are associated with dry cleaning operations, which also have been blamed for wide-scale PCE contamination in cities across the U.S.

The chemicals were discovered in Willow Springs Ponds in 1997, prompting a ban on fishing. The ban was lifted in 2007 after a decade of remediation efforts, though anglers were warned to limit the number of fish they eat per week.

In related news, EPA officials visit mouth of Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colo.

Hisey said Ingersoll-Rand PLC, which purchased Schlage Lock in 1974, “paid for everything the state said needed to be done.”

“Considering what happened to the water in terms of contamination and the efforts it took both my predecessor and I to get it cleaned up, it’s pretty spectacular that we’re back to a clean state again, without any remediation in the ponds,” Hisey said.

In 2013, Ingersoll-Rand PLC spun off its commercial and residential security operations, including the Schlage Lock manufacturing plant in Security, to a newly formed company called Allegion PLC. A message left with the company’s Colorado Springs offices went unreturned Tuesday.

At the height of the problem, tainted groundwater ran southwest from Schlage Lock for about a mile, then turned south and entered the Widefield aquifer, ending about 3 1/2 miles later at the Willow Springs Ponds.

Schlage reported the discovery of contaminated soils at its facility in 1987; the plant manager then said it was probably the result of “a spill” in 1979. But a whistle blower who worked at the plant in 1979 notified health workers that 55-gallon barrels containing PCE-laden oil were being emptied into a pit on-site.

Aside from water quality concerns, the chemical plume prompted a class-action lawsuit against Schlage, one of nearly two dozen suits filed over PCEs. In January 2007, the company paid $5.9 million in legal bills for residents of the area, but no damages were awarded because there was no demonstrable effect on property values.

Part of the clean-up effort involved pumping water out of the aquifer, cleaning it and re-injecting it into the ground, Hisey said.

He said Schlage now uses a hazardous waste materials company to handle the disposal.

Meanwhile, groundwater appears to be safe, and the fish are ripe for eating.

“If you were to catch them and freeze them and then have a big fish fry at home, you can eat as many as you’re comfortable with,” Hisey said.

This article was written by LANCE BENZEL from The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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