Lead and glue contaminate Bidwell Park

Long suspected, it’s now confirmed that areas north of Horseshoe Lake in Upper Bidwell Park are contaminated with lead from bullets and shotgun pellets, and the lake itself is fouled with nuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), the chemical adhesive that holds clay pigeons together.

Local gun enthusiasts’ penchant for shooting at targets and flying discs, which dates back at least 70 years, has apparently come back to haunt us, as litter from such activities now pollutes the ground north of the lake as well as the water—and possibly the fish—in the lake.

Dennis Beardsley, the city park director, said the contamination, which is located “right across from parking lot E,” is in a dirt bank that served as a backstop for bullets from the outdoor rifle and skeet range, which operated from at least the 1930s until 1984.

In addition, there are two concrete bunkers on the old skeet range where clay pigeon fragments are evident. And some of those blasted clay pigeons ended up in the lake. There is concern that the PAH, after years of dissolving in the water and being absorbed into the aquatic food chain, could be in the fish.

Now it needs to be cleaned up, Beardsley said. Studies initiated by the city as a result of concerns raised by the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission revealed the contamination.

“Four or five years ago this was suspected, and now it’s confirmed,” Beardsley said. “Now we’re trying to figure out how to clean it up. We’ve been talking with the Department of Toxic Substances Control in Sacramento.”

Details of those discussions should be presented to the Chico City Council within a few weeks.

Children could be at risk, the Butte County Department of Public Heath has warned. Repeated and frequent visits to the area “may constitute a significant lead exposure to young children,” the department said in a press release.

And the city’s press release said, “There is a potential risk to park users passing through the area.”

For years the lake has been used for the annual “Hooked on Fishing” spring ritual sponsored by the Chico Area Recreation Department, the Rotary Club as well as local fishing clubs. The event aims to get children addicted to fishing rather than drugs.

“We are looking at what can we do to expedite the cleanup as far as what can be done and how fast we can get that to the council,” the park director said. “We may have to look at doing some fencing. But it’s all conjecture at this point.”

Because the soil in the area is very shallow, Beardsley said, excavation of the soil should present few problems and will not be otherwise invasive to the park.