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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 18:55 GMT
Anthrax decontamination under way
Anthrax work in Smailholm
Decontamination work has started in the village of Smailholm
A specialist US company has stared decontamination work at a village hall in the Borders where traces of anthrax were discovered.

The spores were found in Smailholm during a probe into the death of drum-maker Christopher "Pascal" Norris, from near Hawick, last year.

Drumming classes were held in the hall, prompting investigations at the site.

After decontamination is complete further tests will be done before the building is given the all clear.

Mr Norris died in July last year, with tests later confirming anthrax as the most likely cause.

Due to his hobby of making African drums, examinations were extended to include imported animal skins and drums in the area.

When enquiries are complete, a full incident report will be produced
Dr Andrew Riley
NHS Borders

NHS Borders hired New York-based specialists Sabre to investigate and the firm found minute traces of anthrax in properties in Northumberland and the Borders, including Smailholm Village Hall, where Mr Norris used to attend drumming classes.

The US company has now sealed the centre with a tarpaulin "membrane" and is expected to begin pumping chlorine dioxide gas into the building to decontaminate it.

The firm was hired by the US Government following anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill, Washington and at US postal and media offices over several weeks in New York, New Jersey and Florida in 2001, during which five people died and 17 fell ill.

NHS Borders said that once the decontamination process had taken place, the property would be resampled to ensure no spores remain in the property. A final all-clear for the building could be given by the end of March.

Pascal Norris
Mr Norris's death prompted investigations across the Borders

Experts said the risk to anyone who attended drumming classes, handled the drums or visited the properties was "extremely low".

Dr Andrew Riley, director of public health at NHS Borders, said the results of the study were "extremely helpful".

"I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank all Smailholm residents for their co-operation, understanding, support and patience during what has been a most difficult and complex process," he added.

However not all residents were impressed about the way the case has been handled.

Retired civil servant Chris Burns, 72, who lives next door to the village hall, said: "It's a load of nonsense. The hall's been used I don't know how many times between when Mr Norris died in July and they closed it in November, and nobody has had so much as a sniffle."

The US clean-up company Sabre "must have cost a lot of taxpayer's money", added Mr Burns.

Link queried

A woman, who lives in the village but did not want to be named, said NHS Borders had over-reacted.

"There's more poison in the pesticides I bring home in my weekly groceries than there is in that hall," she said.

"As far as I understand it, there's no established anthrax link with the death of this man last year.

"Now we've got lots of fat little men in dark glasses who have descended upon this village and are strutting about like they're the Mafia."

Anthrax is caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis.

It most commonly occurs in animals such as cattle, sheep and goats but can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals.

Health Protection Scotland has stressed that it is not passed from person to person.

A team from the US begins work on the church

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