Marcello Mega

ScottishPower has been accused of contaminating a private water supply to
homes in the shadow of Europe’s biggest wind farm and of failing to tell
the community that its drinking water could endanger health.

The company denies causing the contamination, but admits not warning anyone
that drinking water, from ten homes near Airtnoch Farm, Ayrshire, was, at
times, grossly contaminated.

The wind farm branch of the company, ScottishPower Renewables, insisted
twice in June that its regular tests had found no contamination but refused
requests to publish its results.

When they emerged, serious contamination was shown over a three-year period
before, during and after construction of the second phase of Whitelee,
which has 215 giant turbines.

Tests carried out between May 2010 and April this year showed a high
reading for E. Coli in tapwater, and for other coliform bacteria. Normally,
drinking water should contain no coliform bacteria. Over the three years,
only three out of 36 samples from Airtnoch Farm met that standard.

The results were obtained by Rachel Connor, a retired clinical radiologist.

Dr Connor, from Waterside, a rural area near Kilmarnock, and others who
drank the contaminated water, suffered severe vomiting and diarrhoea, which
they had assumed was the result of food poisoning or a viral infection.

They are angry that they were exposed to health risks that could have been
serious, especially for the very young or very old.

Dr Connor said: “Given that the developer was ordered to take samples
regularly, it would be illogical to suggest it had no duty to inform anyone
the water was failing all the tests.

“It’s highly unlikely that Airtnoch Farm is the only supply in Scotland
that has been contaminated. There may be hundreds of rural water supplies
unknowingly affected by wind farm development.”

In June, ScottishPower Renewable’s press office said: “All sampling was
found to be in compliance with recommended limits.”

Previously it had claimed: “Throughout project construction [we] had no
reported incidence of contamination.”

Its position this week shifted, with a spokesman maintaining that as
construction had not caused the contamination, it was not the company’s
responsibility to report it.

A spokesman said: “ScottishPower Renewables is not responsible for the
day-to-day management of any private water supply.”

The company has ignored requests for the results of tests on neighbouring
supplies, but the spokesman added: “We will look at our processes in terms
of notification, but we were monitoring for construction impacts. Where we
recognise potential impacts arising from construction activity we would act
immediately.”

Scottish legislation states that private water supplies serving one home
must be maintained by the owner, but any supply serving more than one is
the responsibility of the local authority.

However, when development is involved, the developer is given
responsibility to test the supply regularly.
Paul Todd, East Ayrshire Council’s regulatory services manager, said:
“ScottishPower has confirmed in writing that it did not advise us of any
sampling or testing data in relation to private water supplies in
connection with Whitelee.”

The SNP has made renewable energy one of its flagship policies and Alex
Salmond, the First Minister, attended the opening of Whitelee in May 2009.

A spokesman said: “The Scottish Government expects developers to take the
necessary steps to ensure that they comply with all public health legislation.”

Dr Connor’s MSP and Labour’s Justice spokesman at Holyrood, Graeme Pearson,
a former senior police officer, said: “The lack of candour displayed by
ScottishPower in with-holding important information relating to a clear
health risk is worrying.

“Its failure to report the results deserves examination to ascertain what
motivated this level of secrecy and what risks were faced by the community.”

One of Scotland’s leading human rights experts, John Scott, said: “I find
it shocking that any organisation would conceal information that could have
serious consequences for people’s health. There should be some remedy for
those affected, whether through law or human rights.”

Dr Kate Heal, of the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh,
said that the creation of a wind farm involved the excavation and movement
of soil, the laying of tracks and roads for machinery and sometimes, as at
Whitelee, forest felling to create space for turbines.

Dr Heal said: “All these activities can affect the pathways by which rain
falling on the site drains away and makes its way into rivers and lochs and
can affect the ecology of those bodies of water and drinking water.”


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