Families in toxic waste scare told not to eat garden vegetables

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE living near a disused industrial site have been warned not to eat home-grown vegetables or allow their children to handle earth after high levels of a toxic metal were found in garden soil.

This follows claims that pollution from another nearby site has left one man with a series of life-threatening illnesses.

Residents in Earley, near Reading, Berkshire, have been told by their local council that "unusually high levels of cadmium" have been found in soil samples. The news has caused concern because Wokingham District Council has given permission for the second site, once used by Shell to store aviation fuel, petrol, diesel and paraffin, to be redeveloped with 37 homes. Building houses on this kind of former industrial land has become increasingly common as opposition to building on greenfield sites has increased

For the past three years Raymond Fox, whose house backs onto the old Shell site, has suffered from ailments including breathing problems, stomach pains, nausea, bleeding and heart irregularities. He believes contact with toxins, including heavy metals, caused his illness.

A doctor treating Mr Fox believes his illnesses are linked to the old Shell site. Both the developer, Persimmon Homes, and Shell deny any link between the site and his health problems.

A meeting of experts from the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, Berkshire Health Authority, Thames Water and the medical toxicology unit from Guy's Hospital last week also concluded there was no health risk from the Shell site. A spokesman for the council said it had taken Mr Fox's claims "extremely seriously" but had found no evidence to support them.

Mr Fox said he first suspected the site was unsafe when shrubs near a waste pipe from the site that runs through part of his garden withered and died. "I put my hands into the pipe to take some soil samples and that's how I got contaminated," said Mr Fox, who wears a smog mask when in the garden. He says his condition worsened because of fumes around his house and that his wife and children have also suffered health problems. Mr Fox spent three months in hospital under the supervison of a German toxicologist Dr Josef Kees last winter. He was wrapped in special clothing to sweat the toxins out of his body.

Dr Kees said he found a wide range of toxins in Mr Fox's blood, including cadmium, nickel, lead, mercury, DDT, plutonium and uranium. In his medical report the doctor states: "The source for some of the most toxic poisons comes with great likelihood from the land around his house and the surrounding area. The contamination seems to have migrated off the adjacent site into his land." In the past three years Mr Fox has visited hospital 47 times. "I was so ill. The pain was unbelievable. I was was so tired and had dreadful aches. I really thought I was dying," he said.

Mr Fox, who has improved since moving out of the house, is pursuing a claim for damages against Shell. Michael Gordon of Contract Journal said: "This could be a test case with all sorts of implications for various developments as the Government is trying to push more and more into brownfield sites." Steve Watt, regional managing director of Persimmon Homes said: "Mr Fox has made his allegations to Wokingham Council. None of the investigations carried out on the site confirm his claims."

Judy Everett of Shell UK said: "When Shell left the site we did remedial work to return it to industrial use standard. There is nothing to link our site with Mr Fox's problems."