Cancer fear from animal pyre chemicals
Campaigners warn of lasting dangers
Monday April 23, 2001
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 told Maff the situation
is not acceptable. Their experts say it is quite safe - which nobody
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 taking 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 - it is important to put this in context."
But 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 gardens. You could end up with farmers facing a double
whammy. They will not just lose their current stock because of foot and
mouth but may not be able to sell products in future because their land is
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 excess 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 livestock contain hydrogen and carbon
compounds, and the fires are lit with hydrocarbon fuels such as kerosene.
. Fears that foot and mouth had infected wild deer were raised yesterday
after a vet claimed to have identified the symptoms in a dead roe deer
found near Penrith in Cumbria last week. 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 scatter.
Tests are being carried out on the carcass.
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.
By yesterday the number of confirmed foot and mouth cases had reached
1,439. Restrictions were lifted, however, in north Somerset, east and
central Wiltshire, and in parts of Berkshire and Hampshire. More than 2,600
farms were last night due to be released from infected area restrictions on