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No Clue to Cause of Mystery Illnesses

Several health problems have been reported by residents living near the former VA Tech Peebles factory in Pilton in the years following the massive fire which ripped// through this industrial site in 1999.

About 40 people reported common health problems such as eczema, asthma, psoriasis and thyroid irregularities, However environment and health experts have found no evidence of a link between the illnesses and the factory site following several soil tests. The levels of contamination in the residents' gardens did not constitute a health hazard.

The next step is for NHS Lothian investigators to contact the residents involved to ask for formal consent to contact their doctors to sift through their medical records to ensure that all their conditions were properly investigated.

A problem assessment group that was set up to address the redients' grievances had a meeting with the residents on Wednesday night. Fears that residues from heavy metals, and dangerous materials such as asbestos, might have blown into their houses and gardens from the factory site in the wake of the blaze and subsequent clear-up were addressed by them.

Dr Alison McCallum, director of public health at NHS Lothian, chaiwoman of the problem assessment group. She said: 'A thorough scientific study of soil samples in the area surrounding the former VA Tech factory site in Boswall/Pilton has been conducted.

'The findings confirm that residents concerned about potential contamination can be fully reassured that the levels of soil contamination identified in the scientific analysis pose no significant threat to human health.'

She added: 'NHS Lothian is now writing to the residents involved, asking for formal written consent from them for a public health expert to discuss with their GPs the specific health issues they have raised, to assure ourselves that all appropriate investigations into their health complaints have been concluded.'

The health board also carried out a survey of 200 residents in the area in April. It was found that iin some homes, entire families have suffered problems.

Dr McCallum pointed out that analysis of the symptoms reported by the residents revealed that these were in line with the general level of health problems in the Scottish population as a whole.

Fifteen soil samples were taken from ten locations, including gardens in Pilton Avenue, Boswall Place and Boswall Terrace.

Tests were conducted for heavy metals, potentially dangerous organic substances, including asbestos and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and were found to be within ordinarly levels.

The former industrial site is now a major housing development by Strada, featuring around 650 flats and houses.

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