Is aluminium really a silent killer?
Fresh concerns following the 1988 Camelford water pollution disaster will be aired this week.
Fears: Aluminium expert Prof Chris Exley says he is concerned about the metal's ubiquity - in water, food packaging, vaccines, drugs and food and drink Photo: Guzelian
By Liz Bestic
7:30AM GMT 05 Mar 2012
Twenty-four years ago, one of the UK’s most notorious pollution disasters occurred. At a water treatment works on the edge of Bodmin Moor, 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate leaked into the water supply serving the nearby town of Camelford.
Years of bitter disputes followed, with people who had drunk the water complaining of health problems. There were government inquiries, accusations of a cover-up – and, in 2004, the death of Carole Cross. This 58-year-old Camelford resident died from a rare and aggressive form of Alzheimer’s, and her brain was found to contain unusually high levels of aluminium.
The inquest into the cause of Mrs Cross’s death, delayed twice in the past few years, is set to report this week. Among those who will be watching the outcome with interest is Professor Chris Exley, who was called in nearly eight years ago to examine Mrs Cross’s brain (it contained 23 micrograms of aluminium per gram of brain, compared to normal levels of 0‑2mcg).
But Prof Exley, a world-renowned expert on aluminium, hopes the inquest will do more than finally establish the truth about why Mrs Cross died (he is convinced that aluminium from the drinking water played a role in her mental deterioration). He also hopes it will highlight how little we know about the implications for our health of the most prolific metal on the planet.
Aluminium, he argues, is now added to or used in almost everything we eat, drink, inject or absorb. At high levels, it is an established neurotoxin – yet no one knows whether the levels we are ingesting are safe.