Mon, 18 Feb 2019
AN Environment Agency team has found what could be deadly asbestos in the River Lambourn.
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.
The grim discovery was made during restoration work made necessary 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.
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 yet wipe out an entire year’s worth of plants and livestock.
The Environment Agency launched an investigation and also began restoration work last week.
However, a serious problem has since arisen.
Agency spokesman Peter O’Connor said: “We have found what we suspect is asbestos on the river bed.
“We have sent it away for analysis and, depending on the results, we shall have to consider how to dispose of it.
“We will also be looking at what connection – if any – it has with the alleged [dredging] incident last year.”
The discovery and subsequent need for testing is a serious blow for the agency, which is in a race against the clock to repair the damage.
ARK has pointed out that the damage needs to be rectified before the springs break and the river fills with water again.
Ms Hitchmough said: “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.”
That could also mean the suspected asbestos is flushed downstream.
Meanwhile, the investigation into who is responsible for the dredging is ongoing.
Mr O’Connor said: “Our investigation continues and we continue to gather evidence before considering what action we may or may not take.”
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.