Herald Express (West Country)

BY PHIL LAVER 11:00 - 29 April 2002

A DELEGATION of Euro MP's has heard assurances that obnoxious smells from a South Devon landfill site were not caused by the dumping of animal carcasses. Three MEPs paid a fact-finding visit to the Heathfield landfill site near Kingsteignton.
They also met with villagers who claim odours from the tip have lead to health problems.

The European delegations led by South West MEP Graham Watson were given a tour of the landfill site, which is operated by Viridor.

Mr Watson was accompanied by East Midlands MEP Nick Clegg and Dutch MEP Jan Mulder, who are members of the European Parliament's foot and mouth committee of inquiry. They were also joined by Teignbridge MP Richard Younger-Ross.

The group later met with dog breeder Diane Irwin who claims the health of her West Highland White Terriers has been affected by the odours. Mrs Irwin, of Hestow Road, claimed: "Our own health has suffered and we have noticed an unusually high amount of problems with the dogs. The number of failed pregnancies amongst our breeding dogs is much higher than normal."

The delegation were told that the results of tests carried out at theHeathfield site were due back in the next week.

Viridor spokesman Dan Cooke said the tests were expected to confirm previous evidence that there was no link between the smell and the disposal of animal carcasses at the site last year. Between March and November 8,000 tonnes of animal carcasses were buried at the Heathfield site, a total of around 120,000 sheep and pigs.

Mr Cooke said it was a small quantity compared to the four million tonnes of waste disposed of at Heathfield over the last 21 years. He maintained it was a coincidence that the complaints about the odours began around the same time as the disposal of carcasses began. "The site began to suffer odour problems at about the same time," he said. "All the evidence is that the odours are not connected to the carcasses.

"The previous winter saw record rainfall and that amount of water percolates down through the tip and leads to a build up of gas," he said.

"Changes in the way we recycle things also means there is a higher level of organic material being disposed off and that all leads to increased levels of gas."

Mr Cooke said they had capped areas of the landfill with clay and installed additional pipes to extract the gas, which is then burnt off.

He said only one complaint about odour had been received in the past six weeks.

Mr Watson said it was difficult to prove a link between the smells and the disposal of carcasses.

"I think the company have taken the initiative by having tests carried out.

"They have been open in admitting there has been a problem but have made it clear that they do not believe it has any link with the disposal of animals on the site."

Mr Watson said they would take back their findings to the European Parliaments committee of inquiry into foot and mouth.

The whole committee is expected to pay a visit to Devon later in the year.