An abandoned factory “undoubtedly” contains the inactive and dangerous mad cow disease that could threaten humans, scientists have warned.
Thruxted Mill was one of five sites in the UK where cattle infected with mad cows were destroyed.
Scientists warned against housing developments on the land, in a paper claiming the abandoned seven-acre Kent compound may still be a security threat today.
The “gruesome” horror movie-like setting has lain untouched for about 16 years, but that hasn’t deterred would-be residential contractors from trying to build 20 homes there.
Professor Alan Colchester, from the University of Kent, said human activity should never be encouraged near the plant and the surrounding forests.
The consulting neurologist believes the plant remains a threat because the molecules that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) are extremely difficult to destroy and can incubate for several years.
The former animal processing plant, where animal waste is turned into usable materials, is located in an Area of Outstanding Beauty between Ashford and Canterbury.
A user of the urban exploration forum ’28DaysLater.co.uk’, named after the zombie movie, said he visited the ‘open’ site in May last year.
RXQueen said: “I’ve smelt/smelled some bad stuff in my scouting days, but nothing, absolutely nothing, will top this place. It was a mixture of blood, rust, decay, oil, pigeon shit and death.”
The blogger reported finding animal bones under the old grinders.
During the 1990s and 2000s, truckloads of animal remains were transported to the site where machines separate the fat and protein waste from the bone.
Piles of corpses were reportedly dumped repeatedly in the courtyard area, leaving a foul odor wafting over the field.
Pieces of dead cattle were often strewn on the surrounding roads.
A stray truck headed for the mill spilled tongues and football-sized bladder lumps onto a residential street in a nearby town.
At the time, villager Peter Hancox said: “I’ve lived here for about six years and we’ve often had liquid spills, but this was too much. The smell was horrible.”
Nonetheless, in 2017, the developers hoped to decontaminate the site and build 20 homes at an estimated cost of £1.75m.
Professor Colchester said: “The site is a biohazard.
“Infected agents of mad cow disease have always been known to be incredibly resistant to normal decay and destruction, and there will undoubtedly be some long-term contamination in the soil.
“The point is that there are several ways to get in touch with him.
“The worst case scenario is that you could transmit the disease to animals or humans from environmental materials that have been infected in the past.
“And with CJD, we are talking about a very long incubation period, anywhere from a few months to several years.
“Infected debris was left out there and contaminated material is probably still in large quantities in the soil.
“Nothing should be done to encourage human activity around Thruxted Mill or the surrounding woods.
“If you have places in an urban environment that have contamination, then there could be a case where we should completely pave it.”
Transmitted to humans, the disease caused memory loss, personality changes, abnormal jerky movements, loss of brain function, and loss of mobility.
Introducing the 2017 housing scheme, the developers emphasized that soil studies showed evidence of matter including asbestos, metals, petroleum, oils, and greases. But no microbiological species such as anthrax or salmonella were found.
Ashford Council gave the green light to the 2017 housing scheme, conceding that the site “had the most gruesome legacy”.
But the plans were scrapped after a legal battle launched by disgruntled resident Camillia Swire, arguing they lacked expert evidence.
Ms Swire’s daughter, Eleanor, worked on the recent study with Professor Colchester in her article ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind? EEB 30 years later”.
Thruxted Mill is believed to have originally been developed as a sawmill in the 1960s and converted to an animal processing plant by Canterbury Mills Ltd.
Documents at Companies House show the company was dissolved in 2010, two years after the factory closed.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “To avoid risks of disease spread from residues in the soil, groundwater or air pollution, burial or burning of fallen animals has been recommended. , including all farm animals, outdoors. Banned since 2003.
“Before that, guidance on the safe and legal disposal of downed cattle was available.
“The risk of biohazards is addressed through local authority planning processes if historic burial sites are to be redeveloped.”