Cancer fear from animal pyre chemicals;
Fall-out Campaigners Warn Of Lasting Dangers

April 23, 2001 The Guardian (London) by Jeevan Vasagar

Foot and mouth pyres are releasing more potentially cancer causing chemicals to the atmosphere than all of the country's most hazardous factories put together, it emerged yesterday.

Official figures indicate that in six weeks of the crisis, up to April 6, the pyres had released 63 grams of dioxins. This compares with 88 grams released by all of Britain's biggest, most dangerous, factories in a year.

By now, the emissions from the burning heaps of animals will almost certainly have exceeded those from factories.

Dioxins are among the most poisonous man-made chemicals. They affect children's growth and possibly cause cancer. Even low level exposure is known to interfere with the immune and reproductive systems. Environmental campaigners have warned that dioxins accumulate in fat and milk and will work their way through the food chain.

Alan Marshall, a farmer who is resisting the lighting of a massive fire at Arscott farm, in Devon, said last night: We have raised this with Maff. We have told them the situation is not acceptable. Their experts say it is quite safe - which nobody believes.'

Up to 7,000 animals are to be burned on the Arscott fire, which was due to be lit last night. It is expected to burn for between five and eight days and is just one mile away from the town of Holsworthy.

After fears of pollution a pyre of 750 sheep and cows in Langrigg, Cumbria, was being dismantled by Maff yesterday at the request of the local health authority. The carcasses will be buried instead.

But work was continuing at the giant Ash Moor site at Petrockstow, Devon, capable of disposing of up to 432,000 animal carcasses. The site, composed of giant burial mounds lined with clay, is not expected to be ready for at least two weeks.

A government spokeswoman said yesterday that it was misleading to compare the foot and mouth pyres with heavy industry. Most dioxin emissions are not from factories, they are from agricultural burnings and public bonfires.'

Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: I have seen reports which compare the burning to the equivalent of two bonfire nights, so I think that it is important to put this into context.'

However, Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth's food campaigner, said: These are big burnings in concentrated areas, which are very different to lots of small bonfires in back gardens. You are going to get hotspots. You could end up with farmers facing a double whammy. They will not just lose their current stock because of foot and mouth but might not be able to sell products in future because their land is contaminated.'

The campaigners also point out that the foot and mouth fires last for many days, unlike bonfires of just one evening.

FoE believes the preferred options outlined by the Environment Agency - the use of rendering plants, controlled incinerators and state of the art landfills - should be fully used before burning or burying on farms.

In 1991 milk from farms near an incinerator at Bolsover in Derbyshire had to be thrown away because it contained an excess of dioxins. Dioxins form at high temperatures in the presence of carbon, hydrogen and chlorine. Pyres contain chlorine because they are built with creosote-soaked railway sleepers and tyres. The dead cattle and sheep contain hydrogen and carbon compounds, and the fires are started with hydrocarbon fuels such as kerosene.

Fears that foot and mouth has infected wild deer were raised yesterday after a vet claimed to have identified the symptoms in a roe deer carcass. The finding could undermine the government's isolate and slaughter' policy as experts believe it is a practical impossibility to cull deer since panicked wild animals would scatter. Tests are being carried out on a deer carcass which was found at a farm near Penrith in Cumbria last week. Andrew Hoon, chairman of the government's deer initiative body, said: The more you chase wild deer around the more they run around. It's impossible. An epidemic would be a very serious situation.' Maff said it had no confirmation of any wild deer being infected with foot and mouth. Interactive guide to the disease at

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