A spokeswoman for the investigation confirmed yesterday that it will examine allegations by Dr Alan Colchester, consultant neurologist at Guy's Hospital in London, who believes water in Kent may have been contaminated by a rendering plant which disposed of the remains of cattle with BSE.
But she emphasised that such consideration is part of the inquiry's wide- ranging consideration of written evidence from all quarters, in its attempt to understand how the cattle disease became epidemic in the UK, and how it led to the fatal human disorder of "new variant" Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (v-CJD), which has so far killed 23 Britons.
"We are involved in taking evidence from all the scientists who we think the inquiry should hear from," the spokeswoman said. "We are not singling out anyone at this stage."
However early next month the inquiry, led by Lord Justice Phillips, will start calling people to give oral evidence as a follow up to the present collection of written data.
Five of the 23 people who have died from v-CJD came from Kent and two others had connections with the county. Dr Colchester treated a number of the cases in the Ashford area. Speaking yesterday on the Radio 4 Today programme, he expressed concern about Thruxted Mill, just outside Canterbury, one of four rendering plants asked by the Government to handle hundreds of tons of potentially infected cattle remains.
"We know that infected material from infected animal brains with this disease can survive for long periods in the environment - years we're talking about here," he said. "There's really quite strong evidence that, at least some years ago, there was very poor procedural supervision at that mill [Thruxted]: infected remains of animals were left lying around and probably contaminated protein-carrying material is still lying around in large quantities in and under the soil on that site."
He added that potentially the soil could infect humans who came into contact with it through the mouth, eyes, nose and through the water supply.
Cheale Meats, the company which has owned Thruxted Mill since 1991, says it has invested pounds 5m on transforming the rendering plant into one of the most sophisticated in the country.
The Mid Kent Water Company says its tests prove the water is safe. However, there is no proven test for BSE in water.
But David Richardson, plant manager at Thruxted Mill, admitted that "raw material" was put outside the plant before he arrived in 1994.
"It was outside when I first came here: there wasn't odour control, there was poor infrastructure, no proper effluent treatment, so therefore we were, from day one, fighting an historic battle."Reuse content