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Foot and mouth: Officials knew about leak

London Telegraph | September 7, 2007
Laura Clout, Matthew Moore

Two investigations into the recent foot and mouth outbreak have found evidence that officials at a treatment plant were aware of the leaks for several years, but failed to carry out repairs.

Records uncovered during the investigations are said to indicate that there had been concerns about the state of a faulty drainage pipe, through which the virus is believed to have escaped, for several years but no repairs were carried out - possibly because funds were not made available.

The official inquiries will conclude that the virus escaped through the drainage pipe linking the two laboratories at the Pirbright research site in Surrey.

The reports are said to have identified five separate breaches of biosecurity at the site , which is shared by the government-funded Institute for Animal Health and the private Merial pharmaceutical firm.

According to the BBC , in addition to the leaks from a pipe linking Merial to a treatment plant run by the institute, a loose manhole cover which allowed floodwaters to escape, the breaches also include lapses in the monitoring and control of people and vehicles at the site.

It is unclear which of the agencies was responsible for the pipe's maintenance, but photographs of the pipe are said to show clear signs of damage from tree roots.

The virus could then have been carried to the surface by floodwaters and spread to nearby farms via workmen.

Defra will publish the two reports - the findings of an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive into the outbreak of the disease on two farms near Guildford, and a biosecurity review led by Professor Brian Spratt, of Imperial College London.

Pirbright is three miles from where the first herd went down with the disease in Normandy, Surrey, early last month.

The cattle, belonging to Derrick and Roger Pride on rented land, were culled but the virus was later found in animals on their farm several miles away in Elstead, near Guildford.

A second farmer, John Gunner, saw his herd destroyed after they tested positive for the disease just outside Normandy.

Around 600 cattle were slaughtered to contain the outbreak and a ban on animal movements and trade was imposed for several weeks, costing the farming industry an estimated £50m.

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