Tue, 12 Mar 2019
THE suspect substance found on the bed of the River Lambourn at East Garston has been confirmed as potentially deadly asbestos.
The revelation came following tests carried out by the Environment Agency, which is currently working to repair damage caused by illegal dredging.
Conservationists were horrified to discover the damage in December following the illicit operation that could devastate wildlife in the highly-protected chalk stream in East Garston.
The restoration operation is a race against time because that section of the waterway is winterbourne, which means the damage needs to be rectified before the springs break and the river fills with water again.
Environment Agency spokesman Peter O’Connor said: “Tests have confirmed the substance is white asbestos, which is quite a common form of asbestos in farm buildings.
“We’ve also done some tests on the surrounding soil where it was found, but these have thankfully proved negative.
“The rest of the soil is therefore uncontaminated, which is good news.
“The asbestos will be removed safely now we know exactly what it is.
“We will then be able to continue our restoration work, which was originally scheduled to take two weeks.
“We hope we’ll be able to complete it in time.”
Action for the River Kennet (ARK) spokeswoman Charlotte Hitchmough said at the time: “We just can’t understand why anyone would do such a thing.”
ARK has said the damage could have wiped out an entire year’s worth of plants and livestock and warned: “If the water returns before the river is repaired, the damage will be worse and a whole section of the river downstream will be impacted too.”
Mr O’Connor would not be drawn on whether the asbestos was linked to the apparently illegal dredging operation.
But he sought to reassure local people who had questioned why no evident action had been taken against the offender.
He said: “It might sound a simple thing, but our judicial system works in such a way that we need to have clear evidence in order to bring a case and people wouldn’t expect anything less of us.
“Rest assured we are pursuing leads and our investigation continues.
“However, our discovery is a timely reminder how people should only dispose of asbestos within the law, through a company registered with the Environment Agency to do so.
“Search online for ‘Environment Agency asbestos’ for advice and to check our register, or call us on 03708 506 506.”
The River Lambourn is one of England’s finest chalk streams, designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation and recognised as an internationally-important home for fish and plants.
As such, it enjoys the highest level of environmental protection.
All types of asbestos fibres are known to cause serious health problems in humans, while chrysotile asbestos has also been shown to produce tumours in animals.
For more information visit www.maacenter.org/asbestos