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Water poisoning: apology is 'meaningless' without action

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 21, 2013

Comments (5)

Campaigners fighting for victims of the Lowermoor water poisoning said the Government's long-awaited apology would be "meaningless" unless further action is taken.

On Thursday, Health Minister Anna Soubry and Environment Minister Richard Benyon made a joint apology for their department's failings in handling the incident which hit North Cornwall in the summer of 1988.

In a letter to Lib-Dem MP Dan Rogerson, the Ministers admitted there had been "failings in the response to the incident" but said "lessons" had been learned to better protect communities.

"However none of this takes away the distress and anguish felt by many of your constituents over the intervening 25 years," they said.

"In light of the findings of the various investigations into the Lowermoor water incident we, on behalf of Government, unreservedly apologise to your constituents."

It is the first time since the supply serving 20,000 people living from Boscastle down to Port Isaac was polluted, that victims, many of whom believe they have long-term conditions linked to the acid water poisoning, have received any kind of apology from Government.

The death of Carole Cross, 59, who died in 2004 from a rare neurological disease usually associated with Alzheimer's, was the first to be linked to the incident.

And her husband Doug said the apology had to be followed by further investigation.

"They are the first words of apology we have had and it is difficult to know if they are empty or half full," he said.

"But they will be meaningless if nothing else is done.

"There is the opportunity for a full investigation into the response at the time and the health of people who are genuinely concerned and for good reason."

Mr Cross believes there is scope for a criminal inquiry, echoing calls made by Mr Rogerson, into whether a cover-up was instigated to protect the water industry which was on the verge of being privatised.

Mr Rogerson said Devon and Cornwall Police should "re-open their investigation" and "should find no door closed in establishing whether and how a cover-up happened".

He said residents affected by the Lowermoor incident had "a right to know who made those mistakes and why".

Campaigners are also waiting to hear whether recommendations for further research into the long-term health affects of the pollution, caused when 20 tons of acidic cleansing agent were dumped directly into the supply at the Lowermoor water treatment works, will be taken forward by the Department of Health.

Devon and Cornwall Police said in a statement: "Devon and Cornwall Police await a formal request (for an investigation) and any decision on this matter would be taken at that time."

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  • P123Smit  |  September 23 2013, 5:19PM

    Dear Mr Willett Thanks for bothering to get involved in this. I hope that Doug will have answered some of the points you are concerned about. It is great that you are supporting Action for Hearing Loss. It is for this same reason that the understanding of Alzheimer's needs our contribution. 20,000 human guinea-pigs had an experiment performed on them 25 years ago which resulted in often untold suffering. If the government and the civil servants had had their way, this would have been buried in the long grass ages ago. This is not so much about blame: it was a careless government water authority which had ONE key that fitted EVERY lock in the whole of the SWWater area. That was lazy and stupid and an accident just waiting to happen. The poor tanker driver felt terrible after the event. Nobody blames him. HOPEFULLY all the lessons have been learned now. However, if there are people CONSPIRING to cover up a disaster like this, they MUST be found out and taken to task. That is simply wicked. Civil servants need to realise that they are PUBLIC SERVANTS and not our MASTERS. They have a code of practice to which they should be adhering. One a more positive note, we are hoping that this apology will be the first step to bringing together those of us in the community who have been 'divided and ruled' when the early government-sponsored reports shamefully accused us of hysteria. Many of us have remained in no doubt that there was a very real problem; many of those who moved to Cornwall from chalk-water areas of the UK were particularly badly affected, because we were less used to acidity in our water. Many Cornish people were NOT affected at the very beginning, but many were; some felt the effects gradually come on; unfortunately, some of us absorb aluminium more effectively than others ... they are known as SUPER-ABSORBERS. one expert knew about this, but failed to mention it in the earliest government 'inc=vestigations'. Those lucky, healthier people who vomited and had diarrhoea actually did better than those unable to rid their bodies of the aluminium, copper and other toxins. It is a complex thing, as you say. I hope that this helps to explain that we are not being adversarial or argumentative towards you, but that we believe that if you have more information you will be able to make a more fully informed opinion. This dialogue is very useful as hopefully others will see it and understand more fully where we are coming from. Thank you for your contribution With best wishes Peter Smith Peter

  • DougCross  |  September 23 2013, 4:14PM

    The idea that it's too late now to do anything meaningful is wrong - there's a lot that can and should be done. We have been able to look in detail at the brains of a few who were involved and who have since died in unusual circumstances. What we have found is astounding - the changes are unlike anything ever seen before. This does not mean that these catastrophic effects are going to afflict everyone - far from it. But a steady trickle of victims continues to creep into our awareness, and we desperately need to look at these people when the time comes. Some will not show these signs, some others may. But it is so important to find those who have been damaged, because the results of their examinations are giving us crucial new understandings of how aluminium induces dementia in older people. With one in three of us expected to suffer from Alzheimer's Disease before we die, all new knowledge is vital. But for the other folk who are not showing these dramatic sig ns of deterioration, but continue to either worry about their own cases or else are still experiencing problems that they attribute to their experience in 1988, don't think that it is now too late to do anything. It's not. Since the incident we have learned a great deal about aluminium's effects in the body. And we have also learned how to remove it from the body, too. It is now possible to measure the aluminium body burden, using simple screening methods that do not involve medication and repeated sampling of urine and blood. The most recently developed technique is completely non-invasive. So if it's found that you DO have an alarmingly high loading, then it's easy to take it out, by drinking a litre of bottled water that is high in silica every day . Three months of this and your body burden will be dramatically reduced. And no, at the moment we can't guarantee that this will reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's. But at least it takes away one of the known predisposing risks, within a few months. That alone is surely a desirable prospect? As far as our call for political action to find who did what and why, at the time and after, the secrecy and corruption within the Departments responsible for the cover-up must be eliminated. If this is not done, then the little Hitlers sitting in the Departments next time a major chemical disaster occurs could put into operation the same political manipulation that they used to shut down our own little catastrophe in Camelford. As as the world grown more complicated, and ever more astonishing chemicals creep into our everyday lives, the opportunities for them to mislead the emergency services, as they did in 1988, grow ever greater.

  • r_willett  |  September 23 2013, 2:54PM

    Peter, Perhaps you gave slightly misunderstood what I was getting at. I do not consider that the apology received is much of an apology but any apology is better than none. That does not mean that this is ion any way very good. There should have been a swift apology at the time explaining what had gone wrong and what was being done to ensure the same mistake never happened again. The other side - the medical side - is far too complex for me to make a worthwhile contribution. I have heard "experts" from both sides of this putting forward their views until my head reels. But I stick to one thing: nobody can "do" anything meaningful, can they? Please note the very important word "meaningful". I am now seriously deaf - probably largely as a result of an accident although I am not sure. Yes, it would be nice, I suppose, to know exactly WHY I am deaf and WHO I should blame for my deafness but none of that will bring back my hearing, will it? All I can do is to support an organisation which is trying to ensure that people are aware of what makes them deaf in the hope that these things will be avoided - so I do (I am a life member of Action for Hearing Loss). I equate that as wanting to be absolutely sure that the authorities have done everything reasonably possible to ensure there is no repetition of that accident of twenty-five years ago. I am not convinced that playing the "blame game" is the best way to achieve that.

  • P123Smit  |  September 23 2013, 1:17PM

    Dear r_willett It is so frustrating that sincere people such as yourself are taken in by the civil servant PR of the Department of Health. If you take the letter of apology at face value (i.e. with all the 'political spin') you might be forgiven for believing what you read in that apology letter. The reality is very different: 1) there is an ongoing cover-up 2) the Police need to investigate who stopped the Poisons Unit from evaluating the impact of the poisoning when they were requested to visit Cornwall by GP Dr Richard Newman 3) Those who received the little compensation they did were FORCED to accept the 'offer' made on the steps of the courtroom under threat of having their legal aid withdrawn, probably resulting in bankruptcy. 4) the so-called investigations have been largely dismissed by scientists from all over the world. 5) The Ministers themselves have had the wool pulled over their eyes by their civil servants 6) we are seeing problems emerging in children born to people who were children themselves at the time of the poisoning There is STILL much to be done to investigate the ongoing health problems of people; to identify the worst affected; to bring to a grinding halt the continuing obstruction by these wretched civil servants. My colleague Doug Cross, whose wife died prematurely of a rare form of dementia as a result of the poisoning, and I served on the committee which was deliberately perverted by the DoH from properly investigating this disaster. With all respect to you, we have been intimately involved in resisting this cover-up since 1988 and we would ask you to read our critique of the Ministers' apology before coming to any final conclusions. Doug and his wife also lived in Camelford and I treated 200 sufferers, so we do know what we are talking about. Sincerely Peter Smith Chair, Lowermoor Support Group and Homeopath

  • r_willett  |  September 21 2013, 3:04PM

    "Unless something is done" seems a rather odd request. I worked in Camelford at the time and, in common with many others, drank the water and then felt pretty poorly so I feel I can say something that only someone who was there can say. It is simple: accidents happen (and, yes, an apology is required but this one is a bit late) but nobody can "do" anything meaningful, can they? If, like me, your think the answer is "no" then what is the point of wanting something to be done?