Heavy Metals Found in Southeastern El Paso County Ponds

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These are photos of the two ponds in southeastern El Paso County.
They were taken last year by a landowner whose property is right next door.
He was concerned and surprised because the water was such a bright blue color.
Another El Paso County resident, Elvin Henderson tells me ... one of his cows wandered into this field, drank the water and died. He says two other pregnant cows miscarried soon afterwards.
Elvin says, "One of the cows died within 50 to 75 yards of the ponds. We knew they were in it because there were tracks and cow manure all over the ground and the pond itself and then we had two cows abort their calves."
The landowner's photos and complaint made their way from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Attorney General's office to the state health department.
Its team of inspectors collected samples three months ago which revealed high concentrations of heavy metals.
Kip Petersen with the Cherokee Metropolitan District says, "Sounds horribly scary doesn't it? Cadmium, beryllium, cobalt, nickel, zinc, copper... I think those were the six and some at thousands of the allowable drinking water standard."
Petersen is the general manager of Cherokee... which provides drinking water to more than 18,000 residents in El Paso County.
What alarms him... the close proximity of the ponds to one of Cherokee's wells just 500 feet away.
He says this well was initially shut down and tested... finding no problems with the water.
The water is back online. Still, Cherokee must now test the well on a quarterly basis and even send out employees weekly to monitor its output. The extra work has already cost the district $5,000.
Petersen adds, "I'm hopeful that there will be punitive action taken. Obviously remedial action has to be taken."
The state tells me a research and development chemist who works here at this Colorado Springs company is the sole operator of the ponds.
I found Shawn MacMillan at Diamond Materials Tech, Inc. He told me he was doing the work at the ponds as an independent contrator for Diamond Materials Tech and had his company's permission to proceed with the pilot project.
MacMillan gave me a piece of scrap nickel to explain the idea behind all of this. He calls it a state-of-the-art concept.
Instead of sending off the company's waste to an approved landfill, he wanted to go green... constructing these ponds... letting the liquids evaporate, leaving behind solid metal.
Then this material would be sold to a scrap metal dealer who would recycle it.
MacMillan says the nine to 12 month long operation had him transporting between 10,000 to 100,000 gallons of material from the Springs plant to this property which belongs to a friend in southeastern El Paso County.
He says he was monitoring the site and had no idea anyone questioned it till federal and state officials called him.
He says once he was aware how close the ponds were to Cherokee's well... he became concerned and immediately shut down operations as directed.
MacMillan says the good news... his idea worked. The bad news... the proper permit was never obtained.
Warren Smith with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says, "We are still weighing our enforcement options. There are penalties that can be assessed under the statute. It's a little early to talk about that just yet."
Smith says both MacMillan and Diamond Materials Tech could be fined.
He says both are cooperating with the state and the ponds have been drained.
Next, the liners will be removed and the ground water and soil underneath the ponds will be tested... making sure none of the metals can make their way to Cherokee's well.
Diamond Materials Tech gave us a statement saying it operates over and above state environmental requirements and has complied with all requests. It says it's continuing to review the situation and take appropriate action to ensure a satisfactory conclusion.
Health department officials vow to stay on top of the matter to ensure the water and the environment are protected.

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