Government apology for Camelford
The government has apologised to people affected by water poisoning in Camelford, Cornwall - 25years after it happened. Health minister Anna Soubry and environment minister Richard Benyon said they apologised "unreservedly" on the government's behalf on September 19.
Local Liberal Democrat MP Dan Rogerson said the apology was welcome but 25 years late.
The incident involved the accidental contamination of the mains-fed drinking water supply to the town when 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate was tipped into the wrong tank at Lowermoor treatment works in July 1988. The accident raised the concentration to 3,000 times the admissible level and contaminated the water to 20,000 homes.
At an inquest in 2012 into the death of one of the victims, the coroner described the South West Water Authority’s 16-day delay in informing customers of the risk of drinking the water as “gambling with as many as 20,000 lives".
The post-mortem into the death of Carole Cross, who died in 2004 aged 59 and was living in the area at the time, found abnormally high levels of aluminium in her brain. At an inquest last year, West Somerset Coroner Michael Rose said there was a "very real possibility" the water poisoning contributed to her death, but "only a slight possibility" it caused it.
Rogerson told the BBC, the apology "should have come immediately from ministers responsible in the Conservative government at the time".
He continued: "Instead, for 25 years we've seen hedging and buck-passing. It's very welcome that at last ministers in this coalition government are prepared to admit that their departments share responsibility for this appalling incident. Now we have official clarity that mistakes were made, residents in and around Lowermoor have a right to know who made those mistakes and why."
The ministers said: “The incident was serious and unprecedented in its nature and the water authority was slow to recognise what had gone wrong and communicate this to the local public health authorities in the first instance so they could take action.”
It also said that there had been “a manifest failure to give prompt appropriate advice and information to affected consumers, local journalists and government officials".
Mrs Cross's husband, Doug Cross, a forensic scientist, has told the BBC he rejects a report published by the Committee on Toxicity (CoT) of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products & the Environment in April. The report said the incident was "unlikely" to have caused long-term health effects.
Cross had been part of the Lowermoor sub-group of the CoT, but resigned last October. According to a BBC report, he refused to be associated with the proposed final report, which he claimed largely ignored expert analysis on the dangers of aluminium.
The ministers concluded: "In light of the findings of the various investigations into the Lowermoor water incident we, on behalf of government, unreservedly apologise to your constituents."
Devon and Cornwall Police said in a statement: "Devon and Cornwall Police await a formal request [for an investigation] and any decision on this matter would be taken at that time."
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