How officials in a hurry tried to bury BSE

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The Independent Online
The map on this page is a picture of desperation. It shows where between 1988 and 1991 the Government, frantically trying to dispose of the carcasses of cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or "mad cow disease", was forced to bury a total of 6,117 out of the 48,819 cases - 12.5 per cent - recorded in those four years.

The reason they were buried is that there were then too few incinerators to destroy them. Those then available were working at full capacity. After 1991, more incinerators came on line.

But this map may have more significance than just recording where the bodies - with their heads but not their equally infected spinal cords removed - were buried.

It may also contain clues to the 17 cases recorded so far in Britain of people with the "new variant" of the fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). Scientists are increasingly confident that the "new variant" CJD is caused by exposure to the BSE agent. What they are not sure of is exactly what form that exposure takes. The most likely form is through eating food made using the brains and spinal cords of BSE-infected cattle.

But it could be made more likely if the infectious BSE agent - thought to be a misshapen protein called a "prion" - is present in the water, by leaching from a landfill site into the local water table.

It is understood that scientists at the Government's CJD Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh have not yet seen the list of burial sites. But they are also thought not to have found any environmental link between the 17 victims so far.

It may be significant, though, that Stephen Churchill, who in May 1995 became the first Briton to die of the "new variant" CJD, lived in Devizes, Wiltshire, just a few miles from the largest of the dumps in Pewsey, where more than 1,000 BSE-infected cattle were buried from 1988 onwards. Other CJD victims grew up near sites which had been used for landfill - though the correlation is weak.

Last May, the independent advisory committee on BSE and CJD advised the Government that there was "little risk" that leakage from landfill sites presented any significant risk, and that there was "certainly no justification for taking heroic measures to excavate the sites".

However, some members of the advisory committee have said privately that any infectious material in the cattle could infect water supplies.

The scientific theories say that once the "prion" reaches the brain, it causes other normally-shaped prion proteins to become misshapen. This in turn leads to the death of the brain cells, causing the "holes" which give the dead brain a spongy appearance.

According to this theory, the greater the exposure to disease prions, the more likely somebody is to fall ill. If prions leached from the spine of an infected cow buried in a landfill site, and into the water supply, they might tip a person's intake of prions beyond a particular danger level, and trigger the disease.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Environment Agency said last night that they were carrying out risk assessments of a set of the landfill sites used for the burials.

British landfill sites where suspected BSE carcasses were disposed of in 1988-91

SITE COMMENT

1,000-1,200 carcasses

Everleigh Tip, Everleigh, Pewsey, Wiltshire Closed

501-999

Stoney Hill Landfill, Horsehay, Telford, Shropshire Closed

401-500

Hill & Moor Landfill Site, Pershore, Hereford & Worcester

201-400

Wardle Landfill Site, Wardle, near Nantwich, Cheshire Closed

Arpley Landfill Site, Arpley, Warrington,Cheshire

Whites Pit, Arrowsmith Road, Poole, Dorset Closed

Attlebridge Landfill Site, Attlebridge, Norfolk

Welford Quarry Landfill Site, Welford, Northamptonshire

Hirnley Wood Landfill Site, Lower Gornal, Staffordshire

101-200

Jameson Rd Landfill Site, Fleetwood, Lancashire

Salt Ayre Landfill Site, Lancaster

Winterton Landfill Site, West Haulton, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire

Rock Cottage Landfill, Ripon, North Yorkshire Closed

Gamblethorpe Landfill Site, Newsam Green Road, Leeds Closed

51-100

Taddington Landfill Site, Kalton Hill Quarry,

Taddington, Derbyshire Closed

Crich Landfill Site, Crich, near Matlock, Derbyshire Closed

Gainsborough Lea Road, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

Packington Landfill, Little Packington, Meriden, Warwickshire

21-50

Butchersfield Landfill Site, Rixton, Warrington, Cheshire

Blooming Heather, Broughton Moor, Cumbria Closed

Clifton Marsh, Freckleton, Lancashire

Rowley Landfill Site, Queen Park Road, Burnley, Lancashire

Lackford Hall Heath, Lackford, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Bramford Landfill Site, Ipswich, Suffolk Closed

Ryton Landfill, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire Closed

Darrington Quarry, Darrington Leys, Knottingly, North Yorkshire

Mickleby Landfill, near Whitby, North Yorkshire

11-20

Stretton Sugwas, Worcester, Hereford and Worcester Closed

Whinney Hill, Accrington, Lancashire

Kirkby-on Bain, Tattershall Road, Leadenham,Lincolnshire

Leadenham Quarry, Porrergate Road, Leadenham

South Thoresby, near Alford, Lincolnshire Closed

Ingham, Thetford Road, Ingham, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk Closed

Searner Carr Landfill Site, Searner, North Yorkshire

6-10

Pluckley Landfill Site, Pluckley, Ashford , Kent Closed

Kenwick Landfill Site, Kennick Quarry, Louth, Lincolnshire

Seghill, Northumberland

Barnstone Landfill Site, Works Lane, Lanham, Nottinghamshire

Jarvis Landfill Sit, Hawton, Newark, Nottinghamshire Closed

Dimmer Landfall Site, Castle Cary, Somerset Closed

Wetherden Landfill Site, Stowmarket, Suffolk

Acton Landfill Site, Bears Pit, Sudbury, Suffolk Closed

Beddington Landfill Site, Lewes, East Sussex

1-5

Nantycaws Refuse Tip, Carmarthen

Castletown Tip, Castletown, Thurso, Caithness

Middleton Fors, Thurso

Holiday Moss, Rainford, Merseyside

Morley Greasework Site, Dewsbury Road, Leeds Closed

Nettleton, Woods Hill, Nettleton, Lincolnshire Closed

Stainby, Crabtree Road, Stainby, Grantham, Lincolnshire

Slippery Gowt, Wyberton, Boston, Lincolnshire

North Forr, Crieff, Perthshire Closed

Bryn Posteg Landfill Site, Llandidloes, Powys

Stoneyfield, Invergordon, Ross & Cromarty

Burton Farm Landfill Site, Bishopton, Stratford-on-Avon Closed

Lower Spen Valley, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire

Sugden End Landfill, Crossroads, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Shropps Landfill Site, Wheatley, Halifax, West Yorkshire Closed

Wilson Road Landfill Site, Lowmoor, Bradford, West Yorkshire Closed

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