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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 13:24 GMT
Pollution fears of animal pyres
Experts say the mass graves will need monitoring for many years
Long-term pollution may have been caused by the burial and mass burning of slaughtered animals during the foot-and-mouth crisis, the Environment Agency has warned.

In a report published on Wednesday the agency said it was concerned about the effect on groundwater.

Chairman Sir John Harman said some of the effects would not be clear for some time and said there was a need for management and monitoring "well into the future".

The prevention of pollution during an event of such an unprecedented scale testifies to the relevance of our actions

Environment Agency
But the watchdog also said that beyond the effects on groundwater the pollution caused by the crisis was "short term and localised".

It recognised the anxiety caused to communities in areas where mass graves for animal carcasses were dug and pyres lit, but said there was no immediate evidence of lasting problems.

As a result of the report, Friends of the Earth has called for comprehensive monitoring of the sites and "transparency" in future discussions with the local communities affected.

The agency's report looks at water pollution and odour from pyres and burial sites up to late 2001.

It said the effects on groundwater in particular would take time to emerge and that it would continue to monitor the affected areas.

'Limited impact'

Sir John Harman said the body had worked to balance the need to control the disease with protecting the environment.

He added: "The prevention of pollution during an event of such an unprecedented scale testifies to the relevance of our actions.

"Overall, the immediate environmental impact of the foot-and-mouth outbreak appears to have been limited, but we are left with a legacy of mass burial sites that will require management and monitoring well into the future."

The communities have already had to deal with the hell of foot-and-mouth, now they are having to deal with this

Friends of the Earth
Mike Childs, a senior campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said his group had fiercely opposed the use of mass graves.

Those graves had been the last option on a long list drawn up by the Environment Agency, behind methods such as incineration and the use of landfill sites.

He said since existing landfill sites were required to have anti-pollution devices fitted, they would have been the much preferred choice, but he feared the need for speed had influenced the decision to instead dig new burial sites with no protections.

He added: "Now we have a situation where people living near the graves who have private water sources may be open to pollution.

"These burial sites should not have been used in the first place but the agency now needs to make sure there is a contingency plan in place to deal with any future outbreak should it happen."

He added: "The communities have already had to deal with the hell of foot-and-mouth, now they are having to deal with this."

More than six million animals were slaughtered
At its height the crisis affected a third of the land area of England and Wales, making it by far the biggest incident the Environment Agency has had to handle.

Hundreds of environmental protection and hydrological staff were occupied in safeguarding the environment.

An estimated 1.3 million litres, before dilution, of disinfectant was used over the period of the agency's assessment.

The foot-and-mouth outbreak devastated British farming as more than six million animals were slaughtered and a ban on exports imposed.

Tourism was also severely hit as large areas of the countryside were closed to visitors in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.

The BBC's Richard Wells
"There is cautious optimism now that...foot-and-mouth has not returned to Britain"
The National Farmers Union's Rosie Dunn
"We're keeping our fingers crossed"
Animal Welfare Minister Elliot Morley
"We cannot be complacent and we cannot drop our guard"
See also:

05 Mar 01 | UK
Foot-and-mouth factfile
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