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Water poisoning 'unlikely' to cause long-term harm

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: April 24, 2013

  • RARE DISEASE: An inquest ruled there was a "real possibility" that ingestion contributed to Carole Cross's death.

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THE Camelford water poisoning incident is "unlikely" to have caused long-term health effects, a controversial 676-page report has said.

However, new research should be carried out into the effects on unborn babies and young children who may have been affected by Britain's worst mass poisoning nearly 25 years ago, the long-awaited report recommended.

Published on Thursday, the report by the government-appointed committee said that it was unlikely that the pollution, which hit the water supply serving the North Cornwall area around Camelford in July, 1988, had "caused delayed or persistent harm to health among local people".

The disaster happened when 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate was dumped into the wrong tank at the Lowermoor water treatment works, near Camelford.

It turned the water supply to 20,000 people in North Cornwall highly acidic, with tap water containing massive levels of aluminium.

Those conclusions of the report frustrated both campaigners, who said it was "insulting and speculative", and politicians who described the report as a "bitter disappointment".

Peter Smith, who resigned from the Lowermoor Sub Group of the Committee on Toxicity in October last year, said the report was seriously flawed.

"To use the term 'unlikely' is both insulting and speculative, given that the committee would not consider the medical records of those that were exposed," said the Truro-based homeopath.

"I find that completely unacceptable. At the very least, the Government should be carrying out the recommendations without delay."

Many believe that the Government's handling of the accident, and its aftermath, was influenced by the impending privatisation of the water industry and that a public inquiry, even 25 years on, is the only means of establishing the truth.

After a long campaign, Environment Minister Michael Meacher announced an inquiry in 2001. A disputed draft report was published in 2005.

Last week's final version was delayed by the inquest into the death of Carole Cross – the wife of Lowermoor campaigner Dr Doug Cross, who also resigned from the committee in October – who died in 2004 aged 59 from a rare neurological disease usually associated with Alzheimer's.

The inquest concluded that there was a "very real possibility" that the ingestion of aluminium by Mrs Cross had contributed to her death.

The report of the committee subgroup said it recognised that many local people are concerned and distressed about the possible health consequences of the incident.

While it said "no conclusive link was found between the incident and the chronic symptoms and diseases reported" it said further research was necessary.

Professor Frank Woods, chairman of the subgroup, said: "Our research indicates that it is unlikely that the relatively short-term exposure to chemicals from this incident would have caused long-term health effects among local people.

"However, work on potential long-term neurological effects is needed because of problems with the design of previous studies and to follow up an unusual case of dementia in an individual who lived in the Lowermoor water supply area at the time of the incident.

"Further work is also needed to track the health of the most vulnerable groups exposed to the chemicals. These are children born to women who were pregnant at the time of the incident, and youngsters aged under 1."

A campaign by former North Cornwall MP Paul Tyler, now Lord Tyler, helped to force the subgroup's inquiry. He said this week: "After nearly 25 years, this is a bitter disappointment.

"Many local people will justifiably find it difficult to see how this group can conclude that exposure to the aluminium has caused no delayed or persistent harm, when the coroner's conclusions in the recent case of Mrs Cross were so different.

"Meanwhile, the subgroup has failed to live up to the hopes of those of us who campaigned to set it up. We have no further information on the role of ministers in the then Conservative Government."

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