Reburial of cattle ashes sparks fear of BSE pollution in water

February 11, 2002 The Guardian (London) by Peter Hetherington
Scores of foot and mouth disposal sites around England, where animals were burned and buried in an attempt to control the disease, are being dug up after almost a year amid fears that water supplies could be contaminated.

The government acknowledged yesterday that ash had so far been removed from 160 locations, at a cost of almost pounds 30m, and dumped at landfill quarries in Buckinghamshire and West Cumbria. But it played down fears that some of the destroyed cattle over 30 months old may have been susceptible to BSE. It was revealed that 80 wagons had been involved in one operation in Northumberland for the past four weeks - and that the task was nowhere near finished. Operations at another farm are said to have cost pounds 1.6m.

A letter this week from the Department for Food and Rural Affairs to an estate manager in Northumberland said it had asked the environment agency for a risk assessment "on the chance that cattle with BSE could have been buried on the site" and the EA had decided it would be better to remove the ash. The letter also raised the possibility of "any toxic material leaching from the site and entering ground water". It said this was not an issue of the foot and mouth virus "but possible other contaminations".

Slaughtered animals were initially buried on farms before several mass sites were opened to cope with the 6m animals culled.

Richard Dodd, a Northum berland county councillor and farmer, who lost 1,450 animals, said he was baffled. "We hear it's not about foot and mouth but about BSE," he said. "If it is removed because it poses a risk, why was it buried at these sites in the first place? This is happening in areas where farms are restocking."

Defra said consultants had assessed each pyre site for the effect of potash, phosphates and "elements like that" on drinking water. A spokesman said: "It has nothing to do with BSE, but with other trace elements in the ash." If there was a risk of ash leaching to a water course, it was taken to "properly engineered" licensed landfill sites in Buckinghamshire and Cumbria, supervised by local councils.

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