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'Killer' mussels found in Burnley canal
A HEALTH warning was issued today after people were seen harvesting potentially-fatal mussels from a drained canal bed in Burnley.
Engineers have emptied a section of the Leeds Liverpool Canal as part of culvert repair works at nearby Victoria Mill, exposing a channel filled with freshwater mussels.
Council officials said contractors had seen people clambering onto the canal bed and gathering the molluscs which could have been there for 200 years and are polluted with arsenic and lead.
Lancashire Telegraph health columnist Dr Tom Smith said: “The biggest problem would not only be the likes of arsenic and mercury but the bacteria on the beds which may cause e-coli and lead to a number of conditions.
“These may include leptospirosis, otherwise known as Weil’s Disease, which can be fatal and at the very least would cause gastroenteritis and diarrhoea.”
A half-mile stretch of the canal from Westgate to Sandygate has been drained so engineers can repair a culvert underneath the mills complex in the Weaver’s Triangle between Slater’s Terrace and Victoria Mill.
But the footpath on the far side of the waterway has remained open to walkers and cyclists.
An environmental health spokesman at the council said: “We would strongly discourage anyone who may have taken any of these mussels from eating them or handling them unnecessarily.
“Mussels are filter feeders and tend to accumulate any contaminants from the water around them.
“This might include bacteria and toxins, including heavy metals such lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium.
“The mud and silt on the canal bed may also be contaminated.
“Anyone who has removed any freshwater mussels from the canal bed should dispose of them immediately or alternatively return them to a stretch of the canal containing water.”
Jack Spee, director of the Ribble Rivers Trust, said mussels have been spotted in Burnley waterways before, particularly the Brun, near Rowley Lake.
He said around 20 of the 30 known species of freshwater mussels can survive in canals.
He said: “Water quality is improving locally but mussels are filter feeders so they are sensitive to such factors.”
Chris Sears, of Accrington Road, who was using the canal towpath as a shortcut to the town centre with his partner Donna Duffy, said: “You wouldn’t get me eating those mussels - they’re too hazardous.”
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