Britain given final warning over sheep-dip dangers

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The European Commission is poised to prosecute Britain in the European Court of Justice over the way the UK allows its farmers to dispose of sheep dip chemicals.

The poisonous insecticides, implicated in Gulf War syndrome and chronic illness suffered by dozens of sheep farmers, can still be disposed of after dipping by pouring them on to farmland mixed with slurry. The commission's view is that they should go to hazardous waste sites. Now it has issued a formal "Reasoned Opinion" to the Government, warning that Britain is not complying with the European Union's groundwater protection directive.

This is the final stage before the matter is taken to the court and the Government now has two months in which to respond.

The move follows a complaint to the commission by Brian Anderson, who has been ill for seven years since drinking water from the well which served his home and had been contaminated by the chemicals.

The Tay River Purification Board said at the time that samples showed contamination by diazinon, an organophosphate chemical which had been used by a neighbouring farmer to protect his flock against insect attack. After dipping, the water was drained on to his land and mixed with the groundwater.

''I'm delighted that something is happening,"said Mr Anderson, 55, who lives at Blair Gowrie near Perth. ''I just resent the way the Government refuses to take cases like mine seriously.'' He had to give up work running a bed and breakfast and a nursery and now suffers lethargy, memory loss, headaches and constant aches and tingling in his legs.

''I'd just come in from helping to coach the school rugby team,'' he said yesterday. ''As soon as I drank the water I felt a burning in my throat and stomach. Now I can't stand up for more than 10 minutes and I've been told the damage is irreversible.''

The Department of the Environment said it was reviewing the rules and guidance to farmers on disposing of sheep dips.

While guidance to farmers has changed in the 1990s to try to prevent pollution of streams, rivers and groundwater, sheep dip can be still be dumped on farmland provided it is some way from streams and boreholes.

Farmers are advised to consult the Government's Environment Agency first, to see if the land in question is suitable but they are not obliged to do so by law. All farmworkers using the chemicals have to undergo training which includes advice on disposal.

Mr Anderson's complaint was made four years ago with the help of the OP Information Network, a group campaigning against the use of the chemicals. Elizabeth Sigmund, who runs it, said: ''I don't know how the Government can have been so stupid for so long. I hope this does change things now.''