RESIDENTS living near a former RAF base contaminated with chemical weapons have been reassured that the site is safe.

Bowes Moor, near Bowes, County Durham, was used by the RAF during the Second World War as a chemical weapons storage and disposal depot.

After the war the site was cleaned up but an investigation completed in February 2008 showed there were still traces of harmful chemicals such as sulphur mustard, lead and arsenic.

Mustard gas causes skin to blister and is also carcinogenic.

As a result of the study the Ministry of Defence launched a second, more thorough investigation into the 85- hectare site, which is used for sheep grazing.

At a public meeting on Monday night, experts from Defence Estates, the Environment Agency and an independent environmental consultancy told residents of Bowes that while the investigations found increased levels of contamination in some areas, it wasn’t enough to pose a threat to the health of humans, livestock or wildlife.

“The risk assessment shows that there isn’t any risk provided the site is operated and managed in the way it is at the moment,” said Dr Steve Hobbs, from environmental consultants Enviros.

Low levels of dioxins were found in the former mustard gas burning bays while an area where a chemical warfare agent called lewisite had been spilled was found to contain arsenic. However, the concentration levels were so low that the chemicals couldn’t be picked up by humans.

A landfill site at Stoney Keld had originally contained the metal barrels used on planes to store the mustard gas, but after they had been removed, contaminated crushed brick from the burning bays was used to fill the gap.

Mustard residues, lead, arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were all found at the site. Mustard residues were also found in the farm track – which had been built with more crushed brick.

Andrew Eadon-Jones, from Defence Estates, said: “All in all I think it is a good outcome both for the Ministry of Defence and for those that use the site in as much as we know better now what those site risks are and in general terms they are low.”

David Carlisle, chairman of Bowes Parish Council, said: “This has always been something of a issue in Bowes but hopefully this will put people’s minds at ease.”