FMD 2007 cause – Pirbright’s pathetic pipework

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Today’s two reports into Pirbright’s FMD virus escape highlight clear failures. The studies – one by Professor Brian Spratt of Imperial College and the other by the Health and Safety Executive – say leaks from underground pipes are the most likely route of release. Of course these details leaked too – the BBC basically had these conclusions summarised hours before the reports were published! Watch the BBC video report.

Although the HSE say they can’t distinguish whether the Merial lab or the IAH lab are to blame, we know that it’s ultimately Defra’s duty to ensure that all the on-site systems are safe. And it’s so obvious that things weren’t up to scratch!

Photos in the HSE report show damage to pipes from tree roots and misaligned joints. This suggests a basic failure of proper maintenance and biosecurity procedures. 

From the leaky drain, the HSE speculates, the virus travelled to the surface with flood water, and vehicles driving through the flood water moved it onto farmland. The story fits neatly with the timing of the first reports of Foot and Mouth Disease. And this alerts us to the idea that, theoretically, this could have happened at any time, because as yet we don’t know whether IAH or Merial were aware of any leaks. Remember that weeks ago, floods were dismissed as the escape route – was that because they believed the pipes were intact? Or did they think the virus could not have got into the drains?

More evidence of poor practice will undoubtedly emerge (slowly of course!)… meanwhile farmers affected by the Pirbright FMD release are considering legal action.

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