Pylons 'spread foot and mouth'

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The Independent Online

One of the world's leading experts on the effects of radiation believes electricity pylons have helped spread foot and mouth disease.

David Henshaw, a professor of physics at Bristol University, says the high-voltage power lines make the virus even more virulent. He believes the virus, carried by the wind, is electrically charged by the power lines and so better able to "stick" to animals. The principle works in much the same way as static electricity ­ just as a statically charged balloon sticks to clothing, so the statically charged foot and mouth virus adheres to animals.

The prospect of pylons helping to spread foot and mouth is alarming. But it could explain why the disease was so easily spread ­ via super-charged, wind-born particles of the virus ­ and so hard to contain.

"Powerlines could well be an important contributory factor in the spread of foot and mouth," said Professor Henshaw, who specialises in the effects of powerline radiation on humans.

Confirmed foot and mouth cases at Picton, North Yorkshire, are being examined to see if they fit the theory. Attention was drawn to the possibility of pylons being to blame by three Picton outbreaks which occurred close to a 400kV powerline ­ within 400 metres either side of it. A fourth case was 400 metres from a 275kV line; two more were two miles north alongside another powerline.

The local National Farmers Union group says the 400kV powerline is to blame for a seventh case several miles away.

Peter Edmonds, the NFU's local group secretary, said: "Anybody with a powerline across the farm is at a great disadvantage. It is helping to spread the disease."

Prof Henshaw said: "There is a delineation of cases down the powerlines in Yorkshire. I have seen the data."