15 Mar 2012

Camelford water poisoning: Authority 'gambled with lives'

Camelford water poisoning: Authority 'gambled with lives'
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.
'Excessive aluminium'
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.
Speaking before the coroner's ruling, Mrs Cross's husband Doug said that at first he thought they had avoided the contaminated water
Camelford's drinking water was poisoned on 6 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 said John Stephens, the relief driver, should not be "vilified" for his mistake.
But he criticised the water authority for not informing the public about the poisoning for 16 days - a delay he described as "unacceptable".
One reason for the delay may have been the "mistaken belief" that action had been taken to flush the excessive aluminium from the system.....

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