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Fears grow as mass cull contaminates the water
Special report: foot and mouth disease
Kamal Ahmed, political editor Sunday April 8, 2001 The Observer
A government agency is investigating the first 'Category 1' water pollution incident connected to the foot-and-mouth crisis. Hundreds of fish have been killed in a fresh water course in Anglesey after disinfectant used during a cull of cattle leaked into a spring.
The incident is the first evidence of the serious environmental damage experts believe the mass cull of cattle and sheep may create if it is not handled more carefully.
An Environment Agency spokesman said that restrictions on movement around the country were hampering its investigations into the incident in which hundreds of trout and eel died. He said that there had also been a number of more minor pollution breaches which had been caused by blood and animal waste leaking into rivers.
The Government was facing more criticism last night over the plans to bury tens of thousands of sheep and cattle after it was revealed that a similar policy in America had led to an environmental disaster.
Up to a million chickens, pigs and cattle were buried in pits in North Carolina after Hurricane Floyd wreaked havoc in 1999. The policy has led to contamination of thousands of wells which the state relies on for its water supply. Levels of illnesses in the local population have also soared.
'If you do it wrong now you will be living with the consequences for the next 15 years,' said Elliott Moorhead, the chief executive of NanoVapor and one of America's leading experts in animal waste disposal.
'What you are basically building is a pit where diseases can breed. It is a potential disaster.'
News of the pollution outbreak will damage the Prime Minister's attempts to re-invigorate Britain's tourism industry which has been hit hard by the foot-and-mouth crisis.
A Downing Street official admitted that pictures of dead fish floating in rivers was not 'the kind of imagery that will sell well abroad'.
Tony Blair is getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of action on opening up the countryside. County councils across the country said yesterday that they would refuse to open up footpaths and access to the countryside despite orders from Downing Street.
'There is no evidence that any case of infection has been caused by walkers, by visitors, or by people not in contact with livestock,' the Environment Minister, Beverley Grant, said yesterday.
'This means that local authorities and others ought to be basing their assessment of how far they can open up the countryside on that scientific evidence.'
The first evidence that the burial programme was facing serious environmental problems came last week when Maff admitted that it would have to dig up the carcasses of almost 900 sheep and cattle because they had been disposed of in the wrong site.
The carcasses had been buried a few metres away from a fresh water spring at Tow Law, Co Durham, despite orders from the Environment Agency that the area should not be used.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown played down the role that a Chinese restaurant may have played in the foot-and-mouth outbreak. His department had previously highlighted illegal imports of meat from China as the most probably source of the disease, the reporting of which resulted in a 40 per cent fall in the takings of Chinese restaurants, many of which received racist phonecalls.
However, in a meeting with delegates of the Chinese Civil Rights Action Group he said there was currently no evidence linking the outbreak with imported Chinese meat. In an official statement, he failed to rule out a Chinese restaurant as a possible source, but said: 'It would be totally unfair to make a scapegoat of the Chinese community or Chinese restaurants. The investigations into the source of the outbreak are still continuing, and ill-informed, groundless speculation does nothing to help the situation.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 09, 2001