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[EBOOK] Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, Subgroup Report on the Lowermoor, Water Pollution Incident

Historical Perspective

2.1    The Lowermoor water pollution incident occurred on 6 July 1988 at the South West Water Authority's (SWWA) water treatment works at Lowermoor, near Camelford, Cornwall. A relief tanker driver discharged 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate solution into the wrong tank at the unmanned works, subsequently contaminating water supplies to a large area of North Cornwall. The incident is described in detail in Chapter 3 of this report.

2.2    In 1989, in response to concern about the public health implications of the pollution incident, the then Government established an independent expert group, the Lowermoor Incident Health Advisory Group (LIHAG), to provide advice to the then Cornwall and Isles of Scilly District Health Authority "on the implications for the health of the population in the Camelford area following the contamination of their drinking water in July 1988’! The first LIHAG report, published in July 1989, concluded that:

“Early symptoms, which were mostly gastrointestinal disturbances, rashes and mouth ulcers, can most probably be attributed to the incident. It would appear that symptoms were mostly mild and short lived, as general practitioners experienced no increase in consultation rates at the time and in the subsequent month. A substantial number of residents and holiday makers are known to have complained later of continuing or new symptoms following the incident. These symptoms have included joint and muscle pains, memory loss, hypersensitivity and gastrointestinal disorders. We consider it unlikely in the extreme that long-term effects from copper, sulphate, zinc or lead would result from exposures of the degree and short duration that occurred after this incident. Although the possibility of effects due to the interaction of these chemicals cannot be wholly excluded, we can find no supportive evidence. Increased absorption of aluminium may have occurred in some individuals who persisted in drinking the heavily contaminated water. However, all the available evidence suggests that such increases would have been transient, with most of the aluminium being excreted rapidly and only trace amounts being deposited in tissue, chiefly bone. All the known toxic effects of aluminium are associated with chronically elevated exposure and we have concluded therefore that delayed or persistent effects following such brief exposures are unlikely. In our view it is not possible to attribute the toxic effects of the incident except insofar as they are a consequence of the sustained anxiety naturally felt by many people.”

2.3    The report also made a series of recommendations about the future handling and follow-up of similar incidents (Lowermoor Incident Health Advisory Group, 1989).

2.4    In October 1990, following representations from the local community, some of whom continued to attribute health problems to the incident, LIHAG was reconvened with the following terms of reference:

“To assess reports which have become available since July 1989 of persistent symptoms and clinicopathological findings amongst people who were resident in the Camelford area at the time of the Lowermoor incident; and to advise the Department of Health and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly District Health Authority on the implications of its findings.”

[EBOOK] Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, Subgroup Report on the Lowermoor, Water Pollution Incident


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