HC Deb 20 July 1989 vol 157 cc298-9W
Mr. Neale

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement about the report of the Lowermoor incident health advisory group.

Mr. Freeman

The report of the Lowermoor incident health advisory group is being published today. The group was set up in January 1989 at my request to provide independent expert advice to the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly district health authority on the implications for the health of the population in the Camelford area following the contamination of their drinking water in July 1988. Copies of the report have been sent to the Department of Health and to the Department of the Environment, and I am placing copies in the Library. I am grateful to Dame Barbara Clayton and her colleagues for their very thoughtful and authoritative report.

The Government welcome the group's advice that no long-term effects on health are expected. The group's main findings are that:

  1. (i) early symptoms, which were mostly gastrointestinal disturbances, rashes and mouth ulcers and which appeared to be mostly mild and short-lived, can most probably be attributed to the incident. Other causes such as viral infections cannot be discounted for some of the cases.
  2. (ii) it is not possible to attribute the very real current health complaints to the toxic effects of the incident, except insofar as they are the consequence of the sustained anxiety naturally felt by many people. A number of factors have contributed to this anxiety, particularly in relation to long-term effects, and these are addressed in the report.

It is for the district health authority to take any further measures it thinks necessary for the health of the local population in the light of these findings. The Department of Health notes that the advisory group welcomes the DHA's survey of pregnancy outcomes as a sensible precautionary measure and also the continuance of the special consultant sessions for people who are anxious and unwell. The Department has asked the DHA for its observations on the group's recommendations about the availability of patch tests for patients concerned about aluminium hypersensitivity and has noted that general practitioners are advised to consider referral to a rheumatologist for patients with persistent joint or muscle pain.

The report also addresses several recommendations to central Government. We accept all these recommendations; indeed, some have already been implemented.

A formal requirement for a water utility to notify the district health authority without delay of such incidents is included in the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 1989 (SI No 1147). The need for the population and the media to have proper medical and scientific advice as promptly as possible for advance planning to ensure sound management of any such crisis, and for good communications were all addressed by the Government's review of water utilities' management anti operating procedures at treatment works following the incident.

The provision of alternative drinking water supplies is also part of normal contingency arrangements, but the terms of the recommendation on this aspect, especially as it relates to bottle-fed infants, will be taken up with the utilities. The need for health authorities to have immediate access to an authoritative source of medical and toxicological advice is accepted, and we are studying the practical details of implementation. A further statement on all outstanding aspects will be made as soon as possible.

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