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Camelford Resident Died of Rare Form of an Aluminium-Associated Early Onset Alzheimer’s-like Disease


The first neuropathological examination of a Camelford resident who, in 1988, was exposed to extremely high concentrations of aluminium in drinking water and died of an unknown neurological condition, has revealed a rare form of an early onset Alzheimer’s-like disease.

Analysis of affected brain tissue revealed extremely high concentrations of aluminium - levels similar to those observed previously in aluminium-induced brain diseases, including dialysis-associated encephalopathy (dialysis dementia).

Dr Christopher Exley, of the Birchall Centre for Inorganic Chemistry and Materials Science, Lennard-Jones Laboratories at Keele University in Staffordshire, and Professor Margaret M Esiri, of the Departments of Clinical Neurology, University of Oxford, and Neuropathology, Oxford Radcliffe NHS Trust, Oxford, found no evidence of genetic mutations normally associated with early-onset forms of Alzheimer’s Disease. The neuropathology was characterised by severe deposition of beta-amyloid in cortical and leptomeningeal blood vessels in the brain.

This is the first discovery of an association between aluminium and any form of presenile dementia and the first time that the aluminium status of an individual has been linked with APOE, the major risk factor in sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease.

It is concluded that there is no likelihood that these levels of aluminium could appear in the brain by chance and, therefore, the previous exposure to aluminium in 1988 may have been a contributing factor. It is recommended that further neuropathological examinations are carried out on similar neurological conditions both from within and without the exposed population of Camelford.

The research is published in the Journal for Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry and will be available Online First ( from Thursday 20th April.

The results of this first neuropathological examination of an individual, who was exposed to the contaminated water in 1988 and has since died, opposes the conclusions of the most recent draft report (January 2005) of a DH Enquiry into Camelford (, which concluded that no long term health effects of the incident were expected. This report, which has been heavily criticised (see for example,, has yet to be published and would need to be re-written to take the latest findings into account.

Thousands of homes were affected in 1988 when the water supply in Camelford, Cornwall, was contaminated with a toxic mix of aluminium sulphate and metals. A relief driver accidentally tipped 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate into the wrong tank. The chemicals, used to remove solid particles from cloudy water, went directly into the mains supply at Lowermoor Water Treatment Works and affected up to 20,000 people.

Dr Chris Exley | alfa
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