Also from Cumberland News -

April 2001

DAILY monitoring of doctors' surgeries is now taking place on the possible risks to human health of Cumbria's foot and mouth pyres.

Some GPs say they are beginning to see patients who have new symptoms of respiratory illness including breathing difficulties, runny and streaming eyes, coughs and sore throats.

Now an emergency team of public health officials is logging patients' visits to GPs and recording any drugs prescribed to see whether there is a significant rise in respiratory illness.

Dr Peter Tiplady, Cumbria's Director of Public Health, has also recommended to MAFF that people living within one kilometre (0.6 miles) of a pyre should be rehoused while burning took place.

"I do feel that people living very close to a pyre are being dreadfully inconvenienced and left upset by it because of the smell and their concerns over the smoke," he said.

"In some cases, there are one or two proposed sites where homes are too close for comfort and we have recommended to MAFF that if it wants to pursue these sites, that it re-houses those families living in very close proximity.

"The smell is very difficult for people to deal with and although these people would not be at any greater risk of major factors such as BSE or cancer, they may still feel the effects of the smoke and higher pollutant levels. That could include things such as stinging eyes, skin irritation and breathing difficulties."

The public health team at North Cumbria Health Authority is also putting other emergency plans in place because doctors fear the psychological consequences of the epidemic could be enormous.

All GPs, community district nurses and midwives will be offered intensive re-training on potential health problems, and two nurse practitioners will be appointed to work in the community.

Dr Peter Weaving, a Brampton GP, said: "We have been contacted by patients worried because of an existing respiratory condition and other patients who have presented with new symptoms.

"It is far too early to say if this is as a result of the number of pyres in the area but I know this is of great concern to people locally.

"There hasn't been a disaster on this scale in Cumbria before and there will be many ongoing health consequences. I don't think the real health and stress effects will hit our region until the autumn.

"That is why it is absolutely vital that rural practices like ours start to put plans in place and I am very pleased that Cumbria's public health department is taking a lead."

Dr Tiplady stressed that all major health risks caused by the scores of pyres burning across North Cumbria and the Border had been investigated but they would continue to be monitored.

He has set a limit to the number of cattle than can be burnt on a pyre because of the potential risk of releasing prions - the infectious agents that cause BSE and CJD.

He said: "There is no risk in pyres that are burning 200 or less cattle. There is a one in a million risk if 1,000 cattle over five-years-old are burnt because there may be two of the cattle that have BSE. This is a tiny risk and someone would have to really swallow this agent to become infected. On proposals to burn 3,000 cattle, only 1,000 should be five years or older. No more burns should be carried out on the same site after then."

Dr Tiplady said other health concerns included the release of dioxins.

"Dioxins are naturally occurring chemicals that are formed when biological material is burned," he said. "They have the potential to cause cancer but the vast majority of our intake of these chemicals is in our food.

"Any additional dioxins inhaled as a result of the burning of dead cattle is very small. Most of the dioxins released into the air each year are produced on bonfire night.

"We have estimated on our current knowledge that burning of cattle in this way will increase levels by just three per cent. That is a much smaller amount compared to bonfire night.

"Nonetheless, I would still say it would be sensible to avoid the smoke as much as possible."

Dr Tiplady said anyone suffering from an existing respiratory disease or asthma should ensure they kept windows shut during burns.

Source: Elaine Commander