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Call For Testing Of Poisoned Town: Risk Of Alzheimer's Disease

Following detection of Alzheimer's disease in a former resident of the so-called poison town, a new survey calls for further testing of people // who reside in the Cornish town that was hit by water poisoning in 1988. The suggestion has been made in a Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

The death of resident Carole Cross, which was published on Thursday raised concerns about the issue. The flow of nearly 20 tonnes aluminium sulphate into the wrong treatment tank at the former South West Water Authority (SWWA) water treatment works resulted in contamination of water supply to nearly 20, 000 people living around the Camelford area in the July of 1988. The result of the ongoing government enquiry is eagerly awaited.

This resulted in exposure of the residents to aluminium levels of the order of 500 to 3000 times the acceptable level as stated by the European union. Two years of the incident, Douglas and Carole Cross, both residents of Camelford, moved on to Dulverton, Somerset.

Mrs. Cross who suffered from persistent headaches, hallucinations and had difficulties in doing simple sums and finding words was referred to a neurologist in 2003. Progressively, her condition worsened until she died in 2004 at the age of 59 years. Autopsy studies of her brain had demonstrated a very rare form of Alzheimer's disease in addition to surprisingly high levels of aluminium in the affected areas of her brain tissue areas affected.

Environmentalists concerned about the long-term health hazard have been urging officials to undertake stringent testing for over 18 years. It can help in the identification of individuals similar to late Mrs. Cross. A health report published in January last year dismissed any association between the incident and delayed or persistent health effects. Yet, it recommended further research to analyze the impact of the incident, taking into consideration people who did and did not consume the contami nated water.

Dr Chris Exley of Keele University and Professor Margaret Esiri of Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, who prepared the report, recommended testing of residents to examine impairment in intellectual capacity, if any among the residents. They also stressed on the importance of designing a carefully planned programme to monitor the health of the inhabitants.

The inquest into Mrs. Cross' death was adjourned in December, awaiting completion of further research. The SWWA was fined £10,000, with £25,000 costs for supplying water that posed a threat to public health. Three years after the trial, a settlement ranging from £680 to £10,000 was provided to nearly 148 victims affected by the incident.

An investigation committee would meet regarding the issue in the next couple of months. No deadline has however been fixed for publication of the final report regarding the health issue.

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