HC Deb 16 February 1972 vol 831 cc412-3
36. Mr. Carol Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment, in view of the high content of arsenic present in a recent sample taken from one of the water sources that will supply the proposed Meldon reservoir, what action he proposes to take to see that only water free from arsenic will be permitted to enter the public water supply.

Mr. Graham Page

The North Devon Water Board has, as a statutory undertaker, a duty to supply wholesome water, and it is responsible for action to guarantee such supply. I understand that the board is still satisfied that it will be possible for it to work to the most restrictive—and therefore the most healthy—limits for arsenic in drinking water.

Mr. Johnson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is very real public concern about the disclosure of the high arsenic content in samples which have been taken and that there is considerable medical anxiety about the long-term effects of even a minor trace of arsenic in water? Does not the hon. Gentleman think that it is a responsibility of his Department to see that these doubts and fears are allayed and an investigation is carried out?

Mr. Page

Of course we pay attention very much to samples which are taken. The samples taken in October, 1971, showed .1 of a milligram of arsenic in a litre of water, but ever since than the proportion has been down to .005, which is a very small fraction well within the limit which the World Health Organisation has said should be observed for wholesome water.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will my hon. Friend confirm, as this supply is in my constituency, that it is grossly unfair to my constituents that these fears should be raised? Will he bear in mind that the need for water there is very great and that experts, who know far more than the so-called experts, say that the water is clear and that we cannot all live on fresh air and a view?

Mr. Page

Yes. I should point out that the samples taken in October, 1971, were of raw water which had not gone through the normal filtration process. I can assure my hon. Friend's constituents that their water is safe.