Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Camelford poisoning: 'water authority insisted supplies were safe'

Article in The Guardian 1 November 2010 by Steven Morris

This incident happened in July 1988, but is in the news again because of an inquest into the death of women in 2004 that may have been linked to the contamination of drinking water with aluminium sulphate. The incident is often mentioned when talking about human error, but details have not been available before.

The incident occurred when concentrated aluminium sulphate was transferred to the wrong tank at the Lowermoor plant, which supplied a large area of north Cornwall including Camelford. This meant it was present in the drinking water at a much higher concentration than it should have been.

The driver of the delivery tanker told the inquest how he had stepped in at the last minute to take over the delivery. He was told to put his load "in a tank on the left", but he was confused because there were several tanks and manhole covers.

He said he had asked his colleagues to telephone the authority to say he would be running late but when he arrived at Lowermoor no one was there. He said there was no phone available to ring anyone.

According to the The BBC on 1 November 2010 the driver told the inquest he had let himself into the works with a key given to him by the regular driver Barry Davey. But he did not know the former South West Water Authority, which ran the works, used the same key at all its plants. He had believed the key would let him into the site and open one tank.

In another article from The BBC on 1 November 2010, The chemical was used to treat cloudy water. As well as being too concentrated in the drinking water supply, the acidity in the water also released chemicals in pipe networks into people's homes.

The water company was inundated with around 900 complaints about dirty, foul-tasting water but no warnings were given to the public on the night of the incident on 6 July, 1988.

Local residents subsequently reported suffering health problems, including stomach cramps, rashes, diarrhoea, mouth ulcers, aching joints and some even said their hair had turned green from copper residues.

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