Contaminated Cornwall is a project exploring the contaminated landscapes of otherwise idyllic countryside.
After the second world war, in 1950, a top secret plant was established on one of the former airfields in order to experiment with the large-scale production of chemical weapons. The plant was involved in producing a deadly nerve gas, Sarin.
The Nancekuke site was chosen because, unlike other existing chemical development sites, it was deemed far enough away from large centres of population to present a relatively low risk of contamination.
It was hoped that any potential gas leak would disperse out to sea.
Nancekuke Common is located just inland from Porthtowan and Portreath.
In 1940 the common was adopted by the army for a new airbase called RAF Portreath. The airbase was put to a variety of uses during the second world war, which included being an RAF Fighter Command Station and a stopover for aircrafts flying into Europe from the USA.
41 deaths were recorded over a period of 19 years, while more than 300 cases of bronchial and respiratory problems were reported among previous workers at Nacekuke.
The plant closed down in 1976 and the buildings and equipment were decontaminated and buried in five dumps on the site, which included old mine shafts and quarries.

The fence separating MoD land runs next to the coastal path all the way through, from Portreath to Porthtowan.

Only one worker received compensation, as other cases were never proved and the death statistics were claimed to be inconclusive by the MoD.
Tom Griffiths received £110 compensation in an out-of-court set-tlement in 1976, 18 years after being exposed to a nerve gas leak.
The wheal maid mine was first opened in 1782.
It was mostly used for mining copper, though there were a number of by-products that are still present today.
The land is contaminated with arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, zinc, lead and nickel.
The growth of most plants is inhibited due to the land containing arsenic.
Arsenic disrupts the production of the ATP
(energy carrying) molecules vital in the metabolism of multi cell organisms.
Arsenic had a variety of chemical uses including metal alloys, clarifying glass and in pigments. In Victorian times, an arsenic-based pigment known as “Scheele’s Green” (copper arsenate) was used to colour sweets green. Later, the same compound was used as an insecticide.
Arsenic pigments were also popular in Victorian wallpaper manufacture to create green and yellow print. Unfortunately during the Industrial Revolution, these arsenic compounds reacted with the acidic coal fumes to form lethal arsine gas which is even more toxic than arsenic itself.
Wheal Maid was used in the 1970s and 80s for the disposal of waste from two Cornish tin mines. The 24-acre site is now regularly used by walkers, mountain bikers and motorcycle scramblers.
The health risks relate to long-term exposure over many years, but even short-term exposure could affect a persons’s wellbeing.
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