Letter: Environmental law: policy, pressure and procedure in a growth area

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am writing, as an environmentalist, in response to the interview with Paul Bowden of Freshfields. My experience with the so-called 'Camelford Acid Water Incident', in which drinking water was contaminated by 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate being poured into the wrong tank at a water treatment works in north Cornwall - and, currently, with hundreds of sheep farmers who it is alleged have become chronically sick as a result of using organophosphate sheep dips which they were obliged to do by law - has led me to the opposite conclusions.

I find several of Paul Bowden's reported statements astounding. For instance, he cites the 'very impressive' 1990 Environment Protection Act. Surely an Act can only become impressive if the results of its implementation are effective - I have yet to see any signs of this. The article also quotes Paul Bowden as saying that the reason that the 'small man with a health problem' can take a corporate Goliath to court is 'the availability of legal aid'. The problem experienced by most people with whom I have been in contact is precisely the difficulty of obtaining legal aid, and to fund the obtaining of sufficient scientific evidence without it is prohibitively expensive.

The 1987 Government Select Committee on Agriculture pointed out that there is no body with the responsibility for monitoring the effect of pesticides on our population, therefore there is no epidemiological data of health effects upon which to draw. Corporate defendants, mostly the chemical industries, have huge amounts of money available to provide 'experts' to destroy plaintiffs' cases. As one leading barrister said to me last week, 'We get poisoning cases coming to us almost every week, and we have to tell them that there is no chance of success as the law stands.'

Yours faithfully,

ELIZABETH SIGMUND

Callington, Cornwall

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