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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Water poisoning inquiry plea rejected
Michael Meacher
Meacher says lessons have been learned from Camelford
Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, has rejected calls for a public inquiry into the poisoning of water supplies in Cornwall 12 years ago.

Twenty thousand customers in and around the town of Camelford were affected, when aluminium sulphate was put in the wrong water tank at a treatment works.

Victims of Britain's worst water pollution incident have long been campaigning for a public inquiry - a call which had already been rejected by the minister last December.

The full implications of this episode...have all been systematically taken on board

Michael Meacher, Environment Minister
On Monday Mr Meacher reaffirmed his opinion, saying he believed the lessons of the incident had been learned.

"The full implications of this episode, for the water industry, for the environment, in respect of health policy and the legal system, have all been systematically taken on board," he said.

Hundreds of people in the Camelford area of North Cornwall actually drank water contaminated with aluminium sulphate.

The minister's visit came several weeks after the death from cancer of Doreen Skudder, 71, who suffered from multiple chemical sensitivity following the water poisoning incident.

Mrs Skudder was founder of a support group which has campaigned for a public inquiry into the contamination.

Various medical conditions

Many Camelford locals suffered chemical burns to their throats and skin, sickness, aching joints and, according to a study in the British Medical Journal, long-term brain damage.

Previous government reports said the cases of memory and concentration loss were due to anxiety although one admitted there could be some unforeseen late consequences due to the poisoning.

Supplies to 20,000 customers around Camelford were poisoned in 1988 when 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate was accidentally dumped into the wrong tank at the then South West Water Authority (SWWA) Lowermoor treatment works.

'Public nuisance' conviction

The SWWA was fined 10,000 with 25,000 costs after a 17-day trial at Exeter Crown Court in 1991 after being convicted of causing a public nuisance by supplying water which contained amounts of the chemical likely to endanger public health or comfort.

Out-of-court damages totalling nearly 400,000 were accepted by 148 people five years ago in a settlement approved by a High Court judge - the settlements ranged from nearly 700 to 10,000.

Many residents criticised Mr Meacher's informal visit to Cornwall as little more than a public relations exercise.

June Hills, 61, said: "I've been diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer's disease and I have got to live with that. What sort of life can I expect over the next few years before I get cancer or something like that? We need a public inquiry."

Jenny Thomson, who was a county councillor at the time, said: "What about all the babies that were being bottle-fed or breastfed, they must have been taking in contaminated water for four of five months.

"What are the long-term effects on them and what is being done about it - that is our greatest worry."

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