20 February 1998
BSE inquiry to look into Kent water supply

By Boyd Champness

THE BSE inquiry will now examine the possibility that people in Kent may have contracted new-variant CJD through the local water supply.

Dr Alan Colchester, a leading neurologist at Guys Hospital in London, said he believes water supplies in Kent may have been contaminated by a rendering plant commissioned to dispose of cattle remains possibly infected with BSE.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4s Today programme, Dr Colchester said he has treated a number of nvCJD cases in the Ashford area and is concerned about the pattern which has emerged.

Out of the 25 people who have died from nvCJD – the human equivalent of BSE – five have come from the Kent area. And another two have had connections with the area. In fact, three of the victims lived within 20 miles of the plant.

Thruxted Mill, near Canterbury in Kent, is one of four plants in the UK commissioned by the Government to dispose of cattle remains after incineration.

But its not the first time Dr Colchester has aired his concerns about Thruxted Mill.

In 1996, it was revealed that the plant was the only one out of the four to spread its effluent across fields above an aquifer from which drinking water is taken. This shocked Dr Colchester so much that he set up a meeting with the Environment Agency, but later accused them of not carrying out a thorough investigation.

Last year, a former building contractor at the plant, Gary Skillet, said workers at the mill used to tip liquid waste from boiled-down carcasses straight down a well which linked into the local water supply.

But David Richardson, works direc tor of Cheale Meat, the company which has owned Thruxted Mill since 1991, denies this, saying the well was silted up at the time. He said the company has invested £5 million transforming the rendering plant into one of the most sophisticated in the country.

A MAFF spokesman said SEAC, the Governments BSE advisory committee, and the Environment Agency had both carried out thorough investigations into the possibility that BSE-infected material had seeped into the water supply and found this to be negligible.

He said it was not unusual for the BSE inquiry to investigate the link because leaving “no stone unturned” was part of its remit.