Industry carpeted as pollution poses fresh threat to otter

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The River Stour runs through Kidderminster, the carpet- manufacturing capital of Britain. People used to say that the river ran pink or blue, depending on which carpet dye was running in it at the time.

But that was in the halcyon era of carpet manufacturing 20 years ago when Kidderminster employed one in three of Britain's 45,000 carpet workers.

A great deal has happened since then. The carpet industry has had to meet various environmental requirements, dealing with threats posed by moth-proofing, toxic waste and chemical problems with dyes poured in the river. Kidderminster at present employs around 5,000 in the carpet industry - about one in two of the country's total.

Now the industry is under fire again. With Kidderminster's River Stour and huge carpet industry, the National Rivers Authority last week labelled it a "particular problem area".

Environmentalists are concerned that dyed wool which has been infected by sheep dip is ending up in the river producing diazinon, a highly toxic pesticide, which pollutes the river.

Worcestershire Wildlife Trust has called the Stour "a black hole" for endangered otters. The creatures, which threatened to become extinct about 15 years ago, were appearing with greater frequency but the pesticides have changed that.

"There was still a substantial amount of pollution that we discovered recently coming into the area," said Andrew Fraser, the trust's conservation manager. "When the otters came along to eat the fish, they got a full dose . . . The diazinon is almost undetectable in the water but it will kill the animals, like otters, kingfishers and the fish.

Mr Fraser told of the deaths of two otters recently in the Stour, and added that many more risk perishing in the Stour as they try to travel to the Avon or the Thames.

"Our concern is that the Midlands is acting like a black hole because the pollutants are too strong for them to sustain a viable breeding population."

The NRA and water authorities are the first to admit that the carpet manufacturers have done much to meet environmental requirements.

But some, including Hugh Wilson, director of the British Carpet-Manufacturing Association, feel that change is being ordered for the sake of change. "The wool yarn is not perfect but it's nowhere as bad as it used to be. The problem is that the authorities tend to think of figures and then force us to meet those figures."

Some carpet firms in Kidderminster now import dyed wool but others feel indignant that enough progress has been made. Frank Wilson, of Tomkinsons Carpets, said: "The NRA recently commented to us on the quality of the Stour."