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Donkin's World: Heavy Metal, Light Response

Despite industrial decline some British rivers are still being polluted, as Richard Donkin reports.

Do please visit Richard's well-stocked Web site

Details of his book Blood, Sweat and Tears which is acclaimed world-wide can be found here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Sweat-Tears-Evolution-Work/dp/1587990768/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214554429&sr=1-2

One of the happier by-products of industrial decline in the UK has been the recovery of many of our most polluted rivers. The Tyne in Northumberland, the upper reaches of the Calder in Yorkshire, the river Don at Penistone and many more have benefited from the restoration of natural fish stocks.

The problem is that some of the historic threats still remain. Industrial properties - or their remains - continue to line the river banks in many places and pollution incidents still occur. An escape of cleaning fluid wrecked a stretch of the River Wandle http://www.richarddonkin.com/donkin_on_fishing_river_pollution.shtml last year. In that case the company involved, Thames Water, is heavily committed to restoration work.

But in another serious incident, this time on the River Derwent in Derbyshire, the subsequent interventions appear to have been woefully inadequate and inexcusably slow in happening.

The River Derwent, some 50 miles long,is the largest river in the Peak District, joining the River Trent just south of Derby.

In January 2007, a settlement lagoon owned by Glebe Mines burst, discharging large volumes of sediment into the Derwent via one of its tributaries, the Stoke Brook. The sediment was contaminated with mine tailings - fine waste material - which included arsenic, cadmium, lead and other metals.

Now dredging work has started on the riverbed in an attempt to get rid of the poisonous sediment after a scientific report, commissioned by the Anglers’ Conservation Association (ACA), http://www.a-c-a.org/ found that heavy metals had begun to accumulate in the food chain in parts of the river.

The report found elevated lead levels in insects from the effected area leading to a risk that lead levels in fish could rise as a result. Over time, warns the ACA, the range of elevated metals could pose a threat to the ecosystem and to people who might eat contaminated fish. Concentrations of heavy metals are known to suppress the immune system in animals and humans.

The ACA says the Environment Agency responded inadequately with limited sampling after it had recognised the need to act swiftly.

The lagoon burst in January 2007 and EA fisheries officers were measuring sediment depths in early February. By March EA scientists were aware of "acute damage" to a significant stretch of the stream and recommended the removal of sediments. In June 2007 the EA said that removing the silt was likely to start within two weeks. That was over a year ago. In the interim further pollution has occurred. Only now has the work started.

The ACA has chartered what I can only describe as a classic story of bureaucratic delay when it was clear from the start what needed to be done: get the clean up underway and deal with the "who pays?" argument later. The Environment Agency should hang its head in shame. Anglers deserve better.


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