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Living in the shadow of a pyre
Holsworthy town view
Holsworthy: Residents are worried about their health
A Devon town is united in fear over the safety of chemicals released from an animal pyre.

Local protest forced the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) to scale down the number of carcasses being destroyed at a pyre near Holsworthy from 14,000 to 4,000.

Residents are frightened that the amount of cancer-causing dioxins filtering into the immediate vicinity will compromise their health.

But government guidance published on Tuesday states that dioxin levels should pose no long-term health threat, although it admits that people close to large pyres may suffer exposure to irritants.

One local doctor has already treated patients complaining of headaches and respiratory problems.


Dioxins can lead to a serious suppression of the immune system and congenital deformities in children

Dr Asad Al-Doori, local doctor

Although he cannot prove a direct association with smoke inhalation he believes there is a possible link, which could pose a long-term risk to health.

Dr Asad Al-Doori, who practises at Black Torrington, 11 miles from Holsworthy, said there were lots of "significant issues" to consider.

"Dioxins can lead to a serious suppression of the immune system and congenital deformities in children," he said.

"I hope the government and Maff have done their homework."

'Major concern'

The mayor of Holsworthy, John Allen, who runs a shop in the town, said everyone was worried about the health risks of the pyre.

He said: "I think it is one of the major concerns on everyone's lips.

"We don't know what the long-term effects are.

"People are concerned for themselves and their children."

Homes closest to the site of the pyre were evacuated and their owners temporarily re-housed by Torridge district council.

So far the wind has blown the smoke away from the town, but if it changes direction, existing fears will be intensified.

Mr Allen said: "People are worried about the fall out, what's in the dust and where it's settling."

Guidelines

The Department of Health guidelines state that people living close to pyres may suffer exposure to irritants such as sulphur dioxide, and asthmatics may find their condition worsens temporarily.

The government also admits that micro-organisms from carcasses could enter local water supplies, although public water companies are equipped to filter their supplies.

But the guidance states that dioxin levels around incineration sites will quickly return to normal and pose no long-term health threat, although levels in food and other samples taken from areas around larger pyres will be monitored.

Government scientists are currently monitoring dioxin levels near Holsworthy.

A DoH spokesman said: "When the results are available we will try to explain them to local people."



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23 Apr 01 | Medical notes
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