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Professor Peter Smith
"Having a glass of water today is going to result in a negligible risk"
 real 56k

Friday, 25 May, 2001, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Water warning over burial sites
Burning carcasses
Cattle are still being culled
The government's top BSE adviser has warned of a heightened risk of contamination from tap water near foot-and-mouth burial sites.

Professor Peter Smith says the risk of developing the human form of BSE, known as CJD, through contaminated water could be as high as one in 200,000 where older cattle have been buried without being incinerated.

He admitted he would not drink tap water from near the sites, prompting renewed concern among local residents.

Prof Smith told the BBC: "Having a glass of water now or tomorrow is likely to be associated with a negligible risk.

Foot-and-mouth facts
Total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK 1,639 - Two new cases on Thursday
3,028,000 animals slaughtered
73,000 animals awaiting slaughter
15,000 carcasses awaiting disposal
"It would be long term drinking of water supplies that may be associated, even then with a very small risk, but all be it a risk which is greater than one in a million, which is considered an acceptable level of risk."

He said that at other sites where cattle have been burned and then buried the contamination risk is about one in a million.

The Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Health have not ruled out digging up burial sites after urgent risk assessments have been carried out, according to The Express newspaper.

There are 90 sites across the country where cattle more than five years old - the highest BSE risk - have been buried.

Calm

Tory agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo has called for a quick review to assess the risk in a "calm and sober way", said the paper.

But he told The Express: "It is clear the ministry disposed of a lot of carcasses without analysing the risks in advance.

"It is important they review pretty quickly whether there is are any serious risks and take preventative action."

Residents close to one of the UK's biggest burial sites in Widdrington, in Northumberland, said they were horrified to learn their water could be unsafe to drink.

'Time bomb'

The news comes as the total number of confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in the UK reached 1,639.

More cattle are expected to be buried after a new spate of 19 cases in North Yorkshire. The new outbreak has destroyed the optimism sparked by the national decline in cases.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown visited the area on Thursday and held talks with the local branch of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), police, tourist bosses and council officials in Settle, North Yorkshire.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown
Nick Brown was heckled on his visit to the Yorkshire Dales
His visit followed calls from local farmers for more support from the government.

Mr Brown conceded that there had been delays in identifying the disease in the area. And he said estimates showed that more outbreaks were expected.

But he insisted there was an ample reserve of manpower to deal with the new cluster.

It has also been reported that agriculture officials knew of the "significant risks" of feeding swill to pigs long before the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

A memo written by a Maff vet suggests the practice was "a time bomb waiting to go off".


Latest foot-and-mouth cases
Hopes were raised a week ago when - for one day - no new foot-and-mouth cases were recorded. It was the first time this had happened since the crisis took hold.

However outbreaks have continued since then, particularly in North Yorkshire and Lancashire, now identified as a new foot-and-mouth hotspot.


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See also:

24 May 01 | UK
Brown jeered on Dales visit
22 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Foot-and-mouth: A moving target
15 May 01 | Sci/Tech
CJD scientists warn of 'second wave'
24 May 01 | Health
CJD claims 100th victim
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