Dust from houses north and south of Sellafield is found to contain varying levels of radioactive material. The most highly contaminated house dust was found in the Merlin’s family house ‘Mountain Ash’ in the village of Ravenglass, just a few miles south of Sellafield. Levels of Plutonium 239 were found to be 905 times the background level from weapons fallout and levels of Americium 241 17,000 times higher than background. With the safety of their two very young sons in mind, they decided they had to move. With its radioactive content publicly known, they eventually sold their house for half of its market value to a Sellafield worker who may have been rather less concerned about a plutonium contaminated environment.
The Merlins decided to take BNFL to court for the loss on the sale of their house and the radiation threat to them and their children. They lost – the Judge said that although he accepted the evidence of contamination, no damage had been done to the fabric of the house and no health detriment was proved and he refused to award any compensation.
The death of their two dogs from cancer of the nose was one factor which convinced the Merlin family they had to move away. This particular cancer is rare in dogs and the Merlins could not help but think that radioactivity could be to blame, as the dogs had spent a lot of their time on the contaminated shore directly in front of their house.
The village once boasted a small but flourishing fishing business, with locals and tourists regularly queuing on the beach to buy locally caught sea fish landed from local boats. This trade has now disappeared because of public suspicion of levels of radioactivity in fish from Sellafield’s discharges.
Ravenglass Gull Colony and Other Wildlife.
Ravenglass still hosts a nature reserve which, since Roman times, had housed a colony of black-headed gulls on local sand dunes across the estuary. In 1981 nature reserve wardens noted a dramatic decline in the estimated 12,000 breeding pairs of black-headed gulls. By 1985 the colony was all but defunct. Many naturalists suspect that Sellafield’s high discharges of the late 1970’s were responsible, in some way affecting marine life and the food chain. Terns also disappeared during the 70’s and numbers of Oystercatchers, Shelduck and Ringed Plovers have also declined.
A local gun-dog trainer from a coastal village north of Sellafield found that animals, from different litters and which he had sent away to the Midlands, were no longer in demand as they had all died of stomach cancer. He was concerned that pollution from Sellafield could be to blame as the only common link between the litters was that they were all trained and exercised on the local beach.
That Sellafield seagulls’ droppings are radioactive was revealed through the Channel 4 Mark Thomas comedy programme. The contamination from Caesium-137 is believed to have come from two sources, their habit of swimming on Sellafield’s contaminated storage ponds,and from a diet of Irish Sea fish. Samples had been analysed at Manchester University.
Pigeons around Sellafield have also been found to be highly radioactive – see under Seascale.