Cornish cancer cluster inquiry

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The Independent Online
A team of cancer experts is to investigate a rare leukaemia cluster in Camelford, in Cornwall, where eight years ago water supplies to 20,000 people were contaminated with aluminium.

The doctors will try to reassure the local community that the contamination, linked with a wide range of health problems in the town, is not to blame for three teenagers in the same class developing leukaemia.

A 14-year-old boy died in January, and a 13-year-old girl and another 14-year-old boy are receiving chemotherapy for the disease. They are members of the same tutor group at St James Smith's Secondary School, in Camelford.

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Health Authority last month promised an independent inquiry into the cases and four leading scientists attended a meeting with 100 parents, pupils and staff to report the results of preliminary inquiries. Dr David Miles, director of public health for the authority, said at the time that the cluster was "remarkably unusual".

Professor Ray Cartwright, director of the Leukaemia Research Fund and Professor of Epidemiology at Oxford University, told the meeting that the Camelford cluster was rare but not unique, and he warned that investigations into other clusters worldwide often failed to provide satisfactory explanations.

The inquiry team would be following several possible lines of investigation, Professor Cartwright said, one of which was the contamination incident in 1988, when 20 tons of aluminium sulphate were poured into the wrong tank at a water treatment centre.

Professor Cartwright said the team would review the substances which occurred in the water supply. "We do not think there is anything in the water which could cause leukaemia, but we will review it just in case."

He said the team would also study data on the health of the local population, which has been carefully monitored in the aftermath of the aluminium incident.

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