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The Aluminum Sulfate Disaster At Camelford


By James Donahue


It was one morning in July, 1988, that residents along the Camelford Reservoir in the Cornish area of England, woke up to find the water coming from their taps flowing an unusual blue and the tea in their cups curdling.


The blue in the water stained clothing, linen and even people’s hair, one report said.


Along the Camel River were found an estimated 60,000 dead fish. The livestock in the area became sick and some of them dropped dead during the days that followed.


“Even the fabric of our houses was damaged by the incident - copper plumbing was so badly corroded in some that the lot had to be replaced,” said one unidentified victim.


“We all wanted to know what had happened during that warm summer night, but for two weeks we were told that there was nothing to worry about – no health risks of any kind,” the person said.


People later began experiencing anxiety, an inability to concentrate and short-term memory loss. Now, years after the incident, a study by Dr. Paul Altmann, an Oxford nephrologists, published in the British Medical Journal, reveals that people in the area suffered permanent brain damage from consuming a high concentration of aluminum sulfate after it was accidentally dumped in the reservoir.


A study that looked at 55 victims that complained of the symptoms found clear evidence of damage to the cerebral part of their brains. An estimated 400 residents complained of problems after the incident.


About 20,000 were exposed to the poisoned drinking water. More than 20 tons of aluminum sulfate, used by farmers to stimulate plant growth, were dumped.


Efforts by the victims to get help were suppressed by a 1989 government health advisory panel report that said there were no ill effects from the chemical.


Paul Tyler, a Liberal Democrat for North Cornwall, called the incident a “dangerous mistake. Dangerous ignorance was added to damaging injury by the official cover-up immediately after the incident.”


Because of the cover-up many people went on drinking the contaminated water for days afterwards, Tyler said.


Because of the new report, people in the area are calling for additional studies and further examination into the long-term effects of aluminum poisoning.


Recent research shows that aluminum not only causes brain problems, but contributes to bone disease and anemia.