Report into water poisoning comes 'too late' – professor
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.
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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.