Water Authority Gambled With Lives During Water Poisoningby THEUNHIVEDMIND, theunhivedmind.com
March 14th 2012
Camelford water poisoning: Authority ‘gambled with lives’
Carole Cross had high levels of aluminium in her brain when she died in 2004
The water authority responsible for the UK’s worst mass water poisoning was “gambling with as many as 20,000 lives”, a coroner has said.
Coroner Michael Rose made his comments at the inquest of Carole Cross.
The 59-year-old lived in Camelford, Cornwall, when aluminium sulphate was added to the wrong treatment tank, polluting the drinking water in 1988.
Mr Rose said while the incident may have contributed to her death, he could not conclusively say it caused it.
He called for more research into the effects of aluminium on public health, but told the people of Camelford there was “no need to fear” they might become victims of the poisoning.
“I have little doubt the overwhelming number of residents in July 1988 ingested little or no aluminium,” the coroner said.
When Mrs Cross died in 2004, very high levels of aluminium were found in her brain.
Recording a narrative verdict, the West Somerset coroner said she had been exposed to “an excessive amount” of aluminium in the contaminated water.
While there was a “very real possibility” the ingestion of aluminium contributed to her death, he said there was “only a slight possibility” it caused her death.
Camelford’s drinking water was poisoned in July 1988, when a relief delivery driver mistakenly tipped 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate into the wrong tank at Lowermoor treatment works and the chemical – used to treat cloudy water – went straight into the town’s mains supply.
Despite being inundated with nearly 1,000 complaints, the then South West Water Authority (SWWA) insisted the water was safe to drink and advised customers to disguise the “foul” taste by mixing it with orange juice to make it more palatable.
Mr Rose criticised the water authority for not informing the public about the poisoning for 16 days – a delay he described as “unacceptable”.
Shortly after the incident, people in the area began reporting a range of health issues, including stomach cramps, rashes, diarrhoea, mouth ulcers and aching joints.
Some residents even said their hair turned green from copper residues.
Mrs Cross and her husband Doug, who had been living on the outskirts of Camelford at the time, later moved to Dulverton in Somerset.
When she died at Taunton’s Musgrove Park Hospital, she had cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) – also known as congophilic angiopathy – a very rare form of dementia.
Post-mortem tests revealed very high levels of aluminium in her brain – levels described at the inquest by expert Professor Chris Exley from Keele University as “beyond belief”.
He said even 24 years later, people who lived in Camelford at the time of the poisoning should drink a litre of mineral water with a high silicon content every day as this could help flush aluminium from their bodies.
During the inquest at Taunton, evidence was also given by Professor James Nicoll, a neuro-pathologist from the University of Southampton.
South West Water said chemical deliveries are now strictly controlled
He said rodents that were given aluminium in their drinking water as part of an Italian study into possible links between the metal and Alzheimer’s developed the same rare form of dementia as Mrs Cross.
Prof Nicoll said further research was needed as well as more funding to carry out brain scans using advanced technology.
Following the inquest verdict, South West Water – the current body which took over in 1989 when the industry was privatised – said rigorous regulation and heavy investment had “transformed” water treatment works.
“Site access and chemical deliveries are always strictly controlled,” James King, the head of drinking water services, said in a statement.
“Continual monitoring and quality alarm systems now provide real time information which can be acted upon within seconds to tackle any problem which might arise and if necessary shut down a works.”
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