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Report into water poisoning comes 'too late' – professor

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 13, 2013

  • Professor Chris Exley says action must now be taken on the report

  • The Lowermoor Water Treatment Works, near Camelford, where a chemical was put directly into the water supply, which served 20,000 people

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Chief Reporter

Recommendations for further research into the long-term health effects of the Lowermoor water poisoning could have been made 12 years ago, a leading expert in the field has said.

The Lowermoor Sub Group of the Committee on Toxicity was set up by then Environment Minister Michael Meacher in 2001 to investigate after a protracted battle by campaigners.

The long-awaited report was finally published last month and recommended further studies, including to establish the possible effects on unborn babies and children under one at the time of the July 1988 poisoning.

The incident was caused when 20 tons of the highly acidic cleansing agent, which is normally only used in small quantities, was dumped directly in the water supply serving 20,000 people across North Cornwall.

Professor Chris Exley, from Keele University, who has studied the effects of aluminium for 25 years, said unless those recommendations were accepted by the Department of Health the committee's time would have been "absolutely wasted".

"If action is taken on the recommendations then the report will not be worthless," Prof Exley said. "However those recommendations could have been made in 2001.

"In my opinion it will all go nowhere. Unless somehow or other this is highlighted and brought to general attention, this will be it."

Prof Exley gave key evidence at the inquest into the death of Carole Cross, telling the hearing in 2010 it was "highly likely" the high concentrations of aluminium in Mrs Cross's brain contributed to the early onset of the disease which killed her.

He said the amount of aluminium found in her brain was "of an order rarely seen and only previously seen in cases of aluminium toxicity".

Prof Exley criticised the committee on a number of fronts, particularly its lack of expertise in certain fields and its failure to examine the medical records of those who believe they were affected by the polluted water.

He added: "The report has come out and been unable to answer any of the leading questions that were required to be answered."

In its near 700-page report, the committee said it recognised that "many local people are concerned and distressed about the possible health consequences of the incident".

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

Further analysis was needed of cancer and mortality rates as well as the effects on neurological health, the development of unborn babies at the time of the incident and those under a year old.

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  • First Impressions  |  May 13 2013, 3:20PM

    Essentially what appears to have happened here is a glorified cover up of one of the most appalling incidents to ever occur in Cornwall causing untold stress and human suffering. Sadly, because the event took place 25 years ago in 1988, it does not have the same impact to those people responsible or indeed the Government department that should have carried out a thorough investigation at the time. Doug Cross's comments show in more detail how pathetic the govenment of the day were at dealing with the incident. I can only say that I pray an incident like this never takes place again and that water companies have learned from this and, hopefully, have stringent tests in place to ensure 100% protection for the consumer.

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  • DougCross  |  May 13 2013, 12:39PM

    Prof. Exley's comments on the inappropriateness of the CoT report on the aluminium poisoning back in 1988 echoes Peter Smith 's and my reason for resigning from this pointless committee. As Local Representatives on this committee for the past twelve years, we repeatedly asked for medical records to be examined, to confirm patient's accounts, and for those with continuing problems that they linked to the event to be examined clinically. Those requests were refused - not by the patients themselves, who actively - indeed, eagerly - consented to such actions, but by the Dept of Health. That's the same Dept of Health that prevented an Emergency Incident Control Team coming to Cornwall from the National Poisons Unit, and that appointed the appalling Clayton Committee to smooth things over in 1989 and 1991. We were, you may remember, all said to be suffering from hysteria at the time!) and it's the same Dept of Health, in fact, that hastily withdrew the CoT committee's remit to investigate the medical sector's activities (or rather, its lack of activities), when this study was set up by Michael Meacher back in 2001. As Chris says, the recommendations for new research could have been written when the committee was first formed. But no, we had to go through the hoops, and lost twelve year's worth of data doing so. The impacts of this event are of international relevance in research into the role of aluminium in dementia. It was a disater when the contamination took place - but an equally disastrous decision by the medical sector to evade all reasonable efforts to collect information on how it had affected people afterwards. To me, as a scientist, that is the worst form of negligence and malpractice imaginable under such dreadful circumstances. And now we learn that only infants and the unborn at the time are to be monitored. Yet the new revelation that Richard Gibbons from Tintagel also had very high levels of aluminium in his brain when he died recently. This suggests that my wife's condition when she died in 2004 may not after all have been unique. This emphasises the fact that those people who have died in circumstances that appear to be related to the incident were all much older than the newborns of Camelford when they were exposed to this calamitous incident. Peter and I have written to MPs charging the Department of Health with deliberately obstructing justice, by preventing the collection of forensic evidence that could and should have been available to the Court at the trial on criminal charges against South West Water Authority in 1991. This deliberate obstruction of justice back then concealed evidence that at least some people really were severely affected by the incident. It was a major factor in preventing the appropriate medical monitoring and treatment of those who needed it. Evidence of the continued obstruction of justice by the Department can be traced right through to the present. The release of this meaningless 'risk assessment' by CoT does nothing to reddress the persistent attempts of the medical sector to perpetuate the deception of the public, and of the scientific community as well. So far, after six months of waiting, we have had no response from the Ministers. They apparently seem still to be intent on keeping this notorious incident safely under cover. When deliberate obstruction of the police in the investigation of criminal actions takes place, the courts treat it as a serious criminal offense. When such obstruction is carried out by a public office, it's misbehaviour in public office, and demands an immediate inquiry at the highest levels. Such antics generally result in dismissals and even prison sentences. Are we to assume that the Dept of Health is immune to such investigation?

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