Probe into blast effects

PUBLISHED: 11:20 17 January 2008 | UPDATED: 12:46 06 May 2010

Christopher Archer believes the firefighting foam may be responsible for deformities and deaths among his calves

Christopher Archer believes the firefighting foam may be responsible for deformities and deaths among his calves

SUSPICIONS that firefighting foam used to tackle the Buncefield blaze has caused deformities in newborn calves at a nearby farm are being investigated by Government vets and toxicologists. Following the gigantic blast at the oil depot in December 2005 - c

SUSPICIONS that firefighting foam used to tackle the Buncefield blaze has caused deformities in newborn calves at a nearby farm are being investigated by Government vets and toxicologists.

Following the gigantic blast at the oil depot in December 2005 - causing the biggest fire in peacetime Europe - residue from the foam PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) coated a grazing field at Westwick Farm near Redbourn, less than a mile from the depot.

Cattle breeder Christopher Archer claims he was told by various organisations at the time not to worry and the most he needed to do was cover up his water troughs.

But since the blast, which also cracked his house from top to bottom, he has seen an inexplicable blip in his calving record with many being aborted or born deformed - and he believes the PFOS may be to blame.

He normally anticipates six or seven calves each year from his 20-strong herd of rare pedigree British White cows, but his success rate plummeted from 50 or 60 per cent to around 11 per cent.

At the time of the disaster he suspected nine cows to be pregnant and only one calf survived, six were miscarried and two were born with abnormally large heads and died during calving.

Between then and last summer, out of six to seven pregnancies, only one was born healthy, one mutant and another with spina bifida.

Such reproductive failures are not unheard of but extremely out of line with the farmer's past 23 years of experience of breeding cattle at the farm on Westwick Row.

Fortunately, his success rate started to improve in the second half of last year and since then four calves have been born healthy apart from having very slightly domed foreheads.

Despite Mr Archer's calls for an investigation, he was continually reassured that the PFOS was of no danger and that small amounts of the chemical have become normal within people and the environment.

But more than two years on from the disaster an inquiry is finally underway.

Mr Archer said: "Our vets were very concerned because they couldn't put a finger on what the problem was. They got in touch with the State Veterinary Service. We have had tests upon tests and they have taken blood samples from every abnormal cow. They are hoping to find something that would have caused it which is not related to the foam - but so far they haven't found anything."

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning has been helping Mr Archer to seek the inquiry and last week he was granted a Parliamentary adjournment debate to speak about the Buncefield disaster and its repercussions in the community, during which he spoke of the farmer's plight.

Speaking after the debate he said that it was important to establish what levels of PFOS were safe, especially since it was widely used in pesticides.

He said: "It is a big issue but I don't want to scare anybody. I am not willing under any circumstances to allow this to rest. It is massively important, not just for Mr Archer whose rare breeds have been affected so much, but also the well-being of the whole community and the whole country."

Mr Penning also expressed his disappointment that the results from the toxicology tests to detect PFOS would not be available until the summer because there was only one laboratory in the country that could conduct the tests.

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