POISONING 'A GAMBLE'.
A CORONER yesterday said a former water firm "gambled with 20,000 lives" over 1988's Camelford disaster - the UK's worst mass poisoning.
He was speaking at the end of a long inquest into the death of Carole Cross, 59, who died in 2004 of a rare disorder usually linked to older Alzheimer's patients.
Mrs Cross lived in Camelford, Cornwall, in July 1988, when 20 tons of aluminium sulphate was dumped in the wrong tank at the unmanned Lowermoor treatment works. It polluted drinking water but the authority did not tell the public for 16 days.
She drank two litres a day and a postmortem found high aluminium levels in her brain.
Returning a narrative verdict, coroner Michael Rose said there was "a very real possibility the ingestion of aluminium contributed to Mrs Cross's death", but that there was "only a slight possibility" it actually caused her death. He attacked the old South West Water Authority's delay in warning the public.
He told the Taunton hearing: "They gambled with as many as 20,000 lives. Such information should not have been withheld. But people of Camelford have no need to fear. The majority ingested little or no aluminium."
Mrs Cross's widower Douglas, 72, was not at the inquest and has left Cornwall but said: "I hope the verdict prompts a study into long-term effects to reassure my friends."
VICTIM Carole Cross