Alert as allotments are found to contain toxic waste

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of allotment holders were yesterday told not to eat eggs or poultry from their land after scientific tests showedmassive contamination from waste incinerator ash used for footpaths and bridleways.

Hundreds of allotment holders were yesterday told not to eat eggs or poultry from their land after scientific tests showedmassive contamination from waste incinerator ash used for footpaths and bridleways.

Council workers in Newcastle had already spent six weeks removing the ash from 27 allotments after initial tests showed levels of dioxins, furans and heavy metals - cancer-causing by-products of waste incineration - 800 times above safety guidelines.

Allotment holders were also advised to thoroughly wash and peel their produce, especially root vegetables, and not to allow children under three to play on the land after tests confirmed the early findings.

Public health officials said the advice was "precautionary" and that there was no evidence yet of a threat to public health. Further tests have now been commissioned from the University of Newcastle.

Around 2,000 tons of ash was used for paths and bridleways around the city between 1994 and 1999. It came from the city's Byker incinerator which was opened in 1987 as a recycling showpiece, burning household waste to fuel heating.

Of 16 allotment sites examined. 13 were found to have "very heavily elevated" levels of copper, lead and zinc. There was also considerable contamination with cadmium in a majority of ash samples.

An anti-incinerator campaigner, Val Barton, said: "Local people are horrified. Our food is not safe and unknown amounts of dioxins have been raining down for the past 20 years. We demand a full public inquiry and expect the Environment Agency to commence criminal proceedings against the operators of the plant and the council."

The city's public works director, Barry Rowland said: "With the benefit of hindsight we would not have used the ash on footpaths at allotments."

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