3 Jan 2008

Safe water: Camelford cover-up plus reservoirs and dams

Safe drinking water - I have covered the topic before on this blog relating to the floods, brook and more - plus I helped establish the County's Safe Water Campaign which is attempting to stop water fluoridation - but here are a couple of issues I've not covered before.....

One of the regular email bulletins/newsletters I get, comes from the Inland Waterways Association - see www.waterways.org.uk - in the latest issue they have an item looking at reservoirs - it was an eye opener to see the authorities lack of powers over the safety of reservoirs which supply our drinking water - I enclose the item below in green text as it is worth a read and I fully support the Environment Agency's recommendation for having greater powers. However this blog is also to cover Camelford....

Camelford - the scandal

The papers in Cornwall and even the Daily Mail over the last weeks seem to have woken up to the lethal cover-up of poisoning the water of the residents of Camelford village in Cornwall in July 1988. This is nothing compared to Bhopal - see last blog entry - but still has very serious implications.

When Devon and Cornwall Police first investigated the 1988 water poisoning, it resulted in a court case. In January 1991, the then South West Water Authority, (which ran water services in the Westcountry before privatisation), denied it but was convicted, fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 towards prosecution costs. The total bill, including its defence costs of £300,000, was paid for by privatisation receipts.

At the time, campaigners felt that "the powers that be" were blocking any effort to get to the truth of what had happened and why - indeed I have spoken to Green party members who were furious about the way it was handled. It now seems that
legal papers uncovered by the former North Cornwall MP Paul Tyler, now Lord Tyler, show that their suspicions may have been well-founded.

The water authority claimed it had advised consumers not to drink the water and that advice had been given in a radio broadcast at 6am on July 7 and subsequently. But the prosecution document says this claim was "wrong" and that "that was not the advice given to the public on the 6th, 7th, 8th, or indeed on the 12th." It added that the prosecution would say that the authority "misled Mr Healey (the head of the drinking water division at the Department of Environment)" and the question had to be asked if that was deliberate. The document concluded: "There is evidence that a deliberate decision was made to conceal the truth from the public."

Other evidence that the multi-billion-pound sell-off was uppermost in some people's minds has also been uncovered by the Western Morning News using the Freedom of Information Act (FoI). In a bundle of documents released to the WMN was a key briefing note to the then Environment Minister, Nicholas Ridley. It warned: "Those of the South West board with a commercial background are deeply concerned by the investigation. They see the timing of any prosecution of the authority as being totally unhelpful to privatisation, while the prosecution of a board member, in their view, could render the whole of the water industry unattractive to the City."

As it turned out, no named individuals were prosecuted and the Conservative Government succeeded in selling off the national industry for £3.59 billion. The sale of South West Water Authority raised around £300 million - elsewhere in this blog I have gone on abut the absurdity of privatising our water - indeed I don't think it will be many years before controls will be given back to local authorities.

In another FoI request by the WMN they found that a study handed to the group showed that one in four people may have experienced "exceptionally high aluminium absorption". It was told that, during a limited trial, one volunteer's blood aluminium level had risen by 3,250 per cent after drinking a dose containing 290mg of aluminium. But the Government- appointed committee of experts concluded that there was no convincing evidence that harmful accumulation of aluminium had occurred, nor that there was a greater prevalence of ill health due to the toxic effects of the contaminated water. They blamed people's continuing health problems on their "sustained anxiety", which had been fuelled by the media!!

There now looks likely to be a new police inquiry - and not before time. It is outrageous that this matter was not properly investigated.

Interestingly o
ne of the primary architects of this lethal cover-up was psychiatrist Professor Simon Wessely - has has been notorious for his equally scandalous cover-ups of the
biomedical plight of Gulf War Veterans and ME/CFS labelled patients - the latter I had heard first hand from patients who had visited him - although to be fair I also heard from on person with ME who thought he was good.

In the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Vol 39, No 1. pp.1 9. 1995, Wessely together with his colleague Anthony David, published a paper entitled 'The Legend Of Camelford : Medical Consequences Of A Water Pollution Accident' (http://tinyurl. com/3a4fev). "There was little cause for concern," announced Wessely. He also accused Camelford residents of somatisation and the media of irresponsible reporting of this water-poisoning incident. Wessely apparently also blamed those affected of sensationalising their symptoms in order to get compensation.

Here is one recent comment from a Green party member: "It was a scandal. As in the Black Report on the Seascale leukaemias, they used the scholastic method, not the scientific method, to decide that there was no causal link between the chemicals in the water and the symptoms suffered."

Anyhow here is that stuff re reservoirs and dams...

The Environment Agency, which became the enforcement authority for managing the safety of over 2,000 reservoirs in England and Wales in October 2004, has recommended new safety legislation be introduced to take account of the impacts of climate change and ageing reservoirs. The Agency maintains a register of reservoirs and is responsible for requiring owners, operators and users to have their reservoirs regularly inspected, and repaired when necessary, to reduce the risk of dam failure. The Agency says that when it took over as the enforcement authority from local authorities, 379 reservoirs had no supervising engineer and 202 had inspection reports overdue, but that since then, failure to carry out regular safety inspections has been cut by 80%.

average age of dams in the UK is 110 years; those providing water supplies to canals are some of the oldest, but there are some dating back to the 12th century. About 80% of dams are built of clay and earth. The current legislation governing reservoirs and dams is the 1975 Reservoirs Act. This superseded the 1930 Reservoir (Safety Provisions) Act, which was formulated following two dam failures in 1925, one in Scotland and one in Wales, when 20 people were killed. There have been no dam failures resulting in the loss of life since 1930. Whilst the majority of dams were built in open countryside, where their failure posed a risk to only rural communities, because of development and increased infrastructure over the years, the impact of a failing dam would now be that much greater.

A Channel 4 television programme in December showed the potential magnitude of the disaster to central Birmingham if British Waterways’ dam at Rotton Park, which was built in 1826 as part of Telford’s new main line and feeds the Birmingham Canal Navigations, were to fail. However, this reservoir is regularly inspected and there is no known reason for any concern about it.
The Environment Agency has proposed the following changes in the law:

· Better enforcement powers for reservoir (emergency) flood plans. Currently there is no legal requirement for an engineer to sign off an emergency flood plan, and the Agency does not have the power to serve notice on a reservoir owner or operator to prepare a plan or prepare one on their behalf.

· Funded powers to act at reservoirs with no owners. Reservoirs situated on land that is disclaimed following business failures have no legal owners, unless the Crown chooses to take ownership. This does not always happen. Currently there are at least two reservoirs in England that have no legally responsible reservoir undertaker.

· Mandatory post-incident reporting. Currently it is a voluntary system and reservoir owners and operators do not always inform the Agency about emergency incidents at their reservoirs. The Agency says that it would be in the public interest for all emergency incidents to be reported for lessons to be learnt and information to be disseminated.
· Better legal definition of a reservoir that falls within the Agency’s remit. Currently the definition is volumetric, based on a minimum capacity of 25,000 cubic metres of water above ground. The Agency would like the definition of reservoirs to take into account the nature of the downstream community and possible consequences of a reservoir failure or dam breach.

The Environment Agency reports to Government at two-yearly intervals on the actions it has taken to get owners and operators to comply with the Reservoirs Act. Improving safety, protecting lives - the biennial report on reservoir safety - is available on the Environment Agency’s website here. The Environment Agency is currently leading on a new Reservoir Safety Advisory Group to help with research and development. Key roles will include advising on the first 10-year reservoir safety strategy to be developed and overseeing the production of a guide to help reservoir owners prepare emergency plans for their reservoirs.

No comments: