'BSE waste poured down well'

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The Independent Online
The investigation into a rash of deaths in Kent from "new variant" Creutzfeldt- Jakob Disease (v-CJD) has led to allegations that the domestic water supply could have been contaminated.

A former building contractor who worked at Canterbury Mills, which rendered potentially BSE-infected cattle carcasses, said last night that liquid waste was poured down a well that supplies a public aquifer. The company strongly denied the claim.

Gary Skillet, the contractor, said workers at the mills had used a well to get rid of waste from cattle carcasses from the Government's culling programme, introduced last year. Speaking on Meridian TV's Meridian Focus, he said effluent was regularly pumped into the 15-metre well. This is linked to an aquifer that supplies domestic water to a large area of east Kent.

Mr Skillet, of Shadox, Kent, said: "Basically they put down the well whatever they could get down it," and added: "The well was at the lowest point on the site and anything in liquid form, be that rain or material from decomposing animals, would make its way into the well."

David Richardson, of Canterbury Mills, said: "We have never put anything down the well other than rainwater."

Of 25 v-CJD cases identified since 1994, five have occurred in Kent, most within about 25 miles of the plant. Scientists are increasingly convinced the disease is caused by exposure to BSE - though they are not sure what form the exposure might take.

Canterbury Mills rendering plant is based in Godmersham, north of Ashford, and has been operating since the First World War. The first case of BSE, or "mad cow disease", was identified in 1985 on a farm in Plurenden Manor Farm at High Halstead, about 25 miles from the plant. However, it is reckoned that thousands of cattle already had the disease and were entering the food supply at that time - and their remains would have gone to rendering plants.

Scientists are divided on whether water could provide a medium for the BSE disease agent, which is thought to be a protein, and hence remarkably hardy. No tests have ever been carried out to search for it in water supplies, though.

Before the programme Mr Richardson said the allegations of disposal of waste down a well were "totally untrue" and added: "we are discussing the matter with our lawyers. We shall view the programme with interest.

"The fear that there is some infectious agent that may get into the water supply is basically skulduggery and scaremongery by people who do not want the factory here. The risk is absolutely minuscule."

The mother of v-CJD victim Matthew Parker has handed in a 5,500-signature petition to 10 Downing Street calling for a public inquiry into the BSE crisis on the day which would have been her son's 20th birthday.

Doreen Parker, from Doncaster, said too many questions had yet to be answered by scientists. Last week a coroner recorded a verdict of misadventure on the death in March of the 19-year-old trainee chef, saying he probably caught the fatal brain-wasting disease from eating food contaminated with "mad cow disease".

A Department of Health spokesman said the Government had no immediate plans to hold a public inquiry.

A catering company at the centre of an E.coli scare which has left 12 people ill was yesterday ordered by a court to shut down temporarily.

Magistrates in Birmingham granted an emergency prohibition order shutting Hanza Valley catering in Alum Rock Road, in the city's Saltley area.

Two children who were infected with E.coli following the outbreak, a boy and a girl aged four, were "stable" at Birmingham Children's Hospital yesterday.