Friends of the Earth (FOE) has criticised the insufficient useage of the preferred options of disposal outlined by the Environment Agency, such as rendering, tightly controlled incinerators and landfills lined with clay or plastic, with too much reliance being made on the burning or burying of animals on the farm. The practice of burning carcasses, the group says, is leading to the release of large amounts of dioxins, linked by the World Health Organisation with falling sperm counts, genital malformations and learning difficulties.

FOE says that figures from the Atomic Energy Authority, compiled for the government early on in the burning process, showed that 20 grams of dioxins had been released through the burning process, a quarter of the annual amount emitted by the UK’s largest factories. The dioxins released, it says, are largely as a result of the materials used to light the pyres, such as old railway sleepers.

The group is also concerned that the burying of carcasses in non-secure landfill sites could also lead to contamination of underground water, with the Environment Agency stating that this a significant risk in some areas, especially those areas that use underground water for drinking supplies. Potential pollutants include ammonia, chlorides, phosphates, fatty acids and bacterial contamination.

Concern has also been expressed by the Environment Agency over the disposal of disinfectants that are being used to curb the current outbreak.

FOE says that neither the Environment Agency nor the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) seem able or willing to provide a satisfactory reason for the lack of useage of more environmentally-friendly methods of disposal, however a MAFF spokesperson told ediethat the sheer number of carcasses in need of disposal did not allow the best methods to be used. However, she emphasised that all disposal was carried out with Environment Agency approval and that environmental risks were assessed before large scale burning or burial.

The Environment Agency is not in charge of choosing disposal sites or methods for each particular case, but has issued criteria for landfill which must be adhered to.

Meanwhile, residents in the Devon village of Petrockstow, where the burial of 400,000 animals has been proposed, have expressed grave concerns over the implications on local water supply and were to meet with government officials to attempt to prevent the move.

“We have received any alarmed calls from our member companies or the Environment Agency, but clearly possible contamination of water sources is a matter of concern and the water industry has been in close contact with the government about this,” the spokesperson of the water industry body, Water UK, Barrie Clarke, told edie.

“There is no doubt that this foot and mouth crisis will have an environmental impact, it is important we minimise this impact as far as possible,” commented Mike Childs, Campaigns Director at FOE. “The Environment Agency’s preferred disposal must be used to full capacity before burning or burying on farms. Unfortunately it appears that MAFF might be ignoring the Environment Agency’s hierarchy and instead adopting the cheapest approach. At the end of this crisis we need to detail where all the animals have been disposed of and carry out appropriate monitoring to assess any risks still posed to farmers and the wider environment. We also need to have a public inquiry looking at how the crisis arose and how it has been handled. The vitally important discussion about the future of farming and food production in Britain must be take place in public, not behind closed doors.”

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