Abandoned factory “undoubtedly” contains dormant mad cow disease that could threaten humans


An abandoned factory “undoubtedly” contains a dormant and dangerous mad cow disease that could be threatening people, scientists have warned.

Thruxted Mill was one of five sites in the UK where cattle infected with mad cow disease were destroyed.

Scientists warned against housing developments in the countryside, in a paper claiming the derelict seven-acre Kent complex could still pose a security threat today.

The “terrible” horror-movie-like setting has remained untouched for around 16 years, but that hasn’t stopped potential developers from building 20 houses there.

University of Kent Professor Alan Colchester said human activity should never be encouraged near the mill and surrounding woodland.

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, which converts animal waste into usable materials, is located in an Area of ​​Outstanding Beauty between Ashford and Canterbury.

A user of urban exploration forum 28DaysLater.co.uk – named after the zombie film – claimed he visited the “wide open” site in May last year.

RXQueen said: “I’ve smelled/smelt some bad things in my time exploring but nothing, absolutely nothing, can top this place. It was a mixture of blood, rust, rot, oil, pigeon shit and death.”

The blogger reported that he found animal bones under the old mills.

In the 1990s and 2000s, truckloads of animal remains were hauled to the site where machines separated residual fat and protein from the bones.

According to reports, heaps of carcasses were repeatedly dumped in the courtyard area, causing a foul odor to hang over the countryside.

Lumps of dead cattle were often strewn about the surrounding streets.



A lost truck heading to the mill spilled tongues and chunks of a blister the size of a football on a nearby residential village street.

At the time, villager Peter Hancox said: “I’ve lived here for about six years and we’ve had frequent spills, but that was a nugget of courage too far. The smell was terrible.”

Nonetheless, in 2017 developers hoped to decontaminate the site and build 20 homes at an estimated cost of £1.75million.

Professor Colchester said: “The site is a biohazard.

“It has always been known that the infected mad cow pathogens are incredibly resilient to normal putrefaction and destruction, and that long-term soil contamination will undoubtedly occur.

“The point is that there are different ways you can get in touch with it.

“The worst-case scenario is that you could transmit the disease to animals or humans from environmental materials that you have infected yourself in the past.



“And with CJD we are talking about a very long incubation period – from a few months to several years.

“Infected remains have been left lying around and contaminated material is likely still in the ground in large quantities.

“Nothing should be done to encourage human activity in the area around Thruxted Mill or the surrounding forests.

“If you have places in an urban environment that are contaminated, there may be times when we should completely asphalt them.”

Applied to humans, the disease caused memory loss, personality changes, abnormal jerky movements, loss of brain function, and loss of mobility.

When presenting the 2017 housing project, the developers emphasized that soil studies showed evidence of matter such as asbestos, metals, petroleum, oils and fats. However, no microbiological species such as anthrax or salmonella were found.

Ashford Borough Council gave the housing project the green light in 2017, admitting the site “had the most terrible legacy”.

But the plans were scrapped after a legal battle instigated by angry local resident Camillia Swire on the grounds that they lacked expert evidence.

Ms Swire’s daughter Eleanor worked on the recent study with Professor Colchester on his article ‘Out of sight, out of mind? BSE 30 years later.”

It is believed that Thruxted Mill was originally developed as a sawmill in the 1960s and owned by Canterbury Mills Ltd. was converted into an animal processing plant.

Documents in Companies House show the company was wound up in 2010, two years after the factory closed.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “To prevent the risk of disease spread through residues in the soil, groundwater or air pollution, the outdoor burial or burning of fallen animals, including all livestock, has been carried out since 2003 forbidden.

“Prior to this, guidelines for the safe and legal disposal of fallen stock were readily available.

“Biohazard risk is addressed through community planning processes when historic burial sites are rehabilitated.”

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