Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

Anthrax or Plague warning over London Crossrail site

Close up microscopic pictures of the Anthrax virus
Anthrax spores can lie dormant for centuries

The government has warned that traces of bubonic plague or anthrax could be found at a site on the route of £16bn cross-London Crossrail scheme.

Lord James of Blackheath warned that an area in the City of London to be used for tunnelling may be a missing 16th Century anthrax burial ground.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said that a compulsory purchase of the area, a car park, was expected to go ahead.

A decision on the purchase of 10 Hayne Street is expected on Friday.

Anthrax outbreak

"We may very well have here at Number 10 Hayne Street the missing anthrax burial ground that has been lost for 488 years," Conservative Lord James said.

He said that churches in the area had "refused to accept the bodies of the 282 victims of the anthrax outbreak that wiped out the whole population of Hayne Street at that time".

Crossrail understands that there is a very small possibility of buried human remains being encountered during the works at 10 Hayne Street
Lord Adonis

The threat of diseases being released was raised by Lord James at the passing of the Crossrail Bill in 2009.

Human remains were found in May 2009 in a deep exploratory bore hole in Farringdon, central London, but they showed no traces of plague or anthrax.

Deadly anthrax spores can lie dormant for centuries but if disturbed can spread through the air.

The bacteria which causes bubonic plague can also survive in plague pits.

Lord Adonis said he accepted it was an issue that needed further study.

"Crossrail understands that there is a very small possibility of buried human remains being encountered during the works at 10 Hayne Street," he told peers.

But he said it was "highly unlikely that the works would release any anthrax spores or bacteria causing plague".

The Crossrail scheme is intended to link towns to the east and west of London with Heathrow, the West End, and Canary Wharf from 2017.



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