Camelford water poisoning: Aluminium in brain 'beyond belief'

A woman who lived in a town where aluminium sulphate was added to the water supply had aluminium levels in her brain which were "beyond belief", an inquest into her death has heard.

Carole Cross lived in Camelford, Cornwall, in the 1980s.

The 59-year-old died in 2004 from a rare form of dementia.

Professor Chris Exley said mineral water could still flush aluminium from the brains of people affected by the water poisoning in 1988.

Health problems

About 20,000 customers were affected when a relief lorry driver mistakenly added 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate to drinking water at the Lowermoor treatment works in July 1988.

Prof Exley, from Keele University, told the inquest in Taunton that although the incident happened 24 years ago, if people living in Camelford at that time were to drink daily at least one litre of mineral water with a high silicon content of more than 30mg, it would help remove aluminium from their brains.

In 2010, an earlier sitting of Mrs Cross's inquest was told that on the night of the incident the then South West Water Authority (SWWA) was inundated with hundreds of complaints about dirty, foul-tasting water.

But the authority insisted the water was safe to drink and no warnings were issued to the public for at least two weeks.

Local residents reported a range of health problems, including stomach cramps, rashes, diarrhoea, mouth ulcers and aching joints, and some even said their hair had turned green from copper residues.

Mrs Cross lived on the outskirts of the town and later moved to Dulverton in Somerset. She died at Taunton's Musgrove Park Hospital in 2004.

Rodent experiment

She had cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) - also known as congophilic angiopathy - and her husband Dr Doug Cross has, for many years, believed the high levels of aluminium she was exposed to in Camelford contributed to her death.

Prof Exley told the inquest the aluminium levels found in her brain were "beyond belief".

The inquest also heard from a neuro pathologist from the University of Southampton, who agreed the aluminium could be linked to Mrs Cross's death.

Professor James Nicoll said during an Italian study - one of several which have taken place into possible links between the metal and Alzheimer's - rodents were given aluminium in their drinking water over several months.

Scientists found the rodents developed the same rare form of dementia as Mrs Cross.

However, he said that alone could not be relied on and more research was needed.

Technological advances in brain scanning could provide evidence but more funding would be necessary.

Prof Nicoll told the inquest people living in Camelford should be tested.

The last hearing of Mrs Cross's inquest was held in November 2010 but following testimony from scientists, West Somerset Coroner Michael Rose agreed to the water authority's request to adjourn the inquest.

The inquest is due to conclude on Tuesday, with a verdict expected on Wednesday 14 March.

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