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Anthrax worry at site of new reservoir in Cheddar

By Cheddar Valley Gazette  |  Posted: November 30, 2012

Looking south from the existing reservoir across fields where the new one may go

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A possible anthrax site has been flagged up on land earmarked for Cheddar Reservoir 2.

Whether animal carcasses carrying the animal-to-human disease are definitely buried on Hythe Lane off the B3151 Wedmore Road in Cheddar is unknown. But the possibility has been pointed out to Bristol Water, who are doing exploratory digging works in the vicinity.

Keith Russett, 74, lives in Barclay House on Hythe Lane, and believes he is the only resident who could be displaced if the reservoir is built south of the existing site.

He said his nephew is an archaeologist and had spoken to a neighbouring farmer about anthrax-contaminated animals being buried after the First World War.

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Mr Russett, a retired mechanic whose son now runs the family garage business from Hythe Lane, said: “I have spoken to Defra and they suggested I contact Sedgemoor District Council and they said they have no evidence of anthrax contamination after 1924 but they would look into it.

“If the surface of the suspect ground is broken the anthrax spores become airborne. It shocked me that Defra were not that interested and referred me to Sedgemoor. I’m not one of those cranks.”

Mr Russett has lived at Hythe Lane since 1942 and is unhappy with the prospect of a reservoir being built as it would displace his family home and garage business. However, he is concerned about anthrax being stirred up not too far from a busy main road.

Bristol Water confirmed its ground investigators for the proposed reservoir have been warned about the alleged anthrax. So far the suspect site has been avoided and its alleged existence is not expected to delay works.

A spokesman said: “The information source is regarded as credible – but, as yet, no records of any such burial site, possibly involving cattle that died from the disease, have been found.

“The land concerned has not yet been involved in the latest ground investigations. Full enquiries will be undertaken before any activity such as drilling takes place on the particular land in question.

“Neither staff nor public have been or will be placed in any danger.”

The anthrax investigation will be done by the book of Health and Safety Executive guidelines and the site team is equipped for any potential contamination. Anthrax is an increasingly rare disease and can be contracted through cuts, inhalation and ingestion.

It was historic practice to carefully bury infected carcasses to limit any exposure of the disease to air through cuts. However, bleeds could occur, leading to anthrax spores that can become airborne when disturbed.

Two musical instrument makers have died in recent years in the UK after contracting anthrax from spores released from animal skins used to make drums.

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