CANCER-CAUSING chemicals are being pumped into the air from a Sussex factory, environment campaigners claimed today.

Drugs company SmithKline Beecham in Worthing has been named as the eighth-worst polluter in London and the South East in a report by Friends of the Earth.

But SmithKline has hit back, saying emission figures are acceptable and there is no risk to health.

The company has been backed by West Worthing MP Peter Bottomley, who said: "SmithKline Beecham emissions are way, way below anything which should worry people, and Friends of the Earth have got it wrong in this case."

The Factory Watch report claims the plant in Southdownview Way, which employs around 1,600 people producing antibiotics, releases health-threatening and cancer-causing chemicals into the environment.

FoE says two of the chemicals being released, formaldehyde and dichloromethane, are recognised carcinogens - substances which can cause cancer.

It calculates SmithKline Beecham released almost 18 tonnes of carcinogens into Worthing's air and water in 1996, the last year for which figures are available.

The group describes its findings as "alarming."

Amanda Brace, regional campaign co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth, said: "I wouldn't want to live in close proximity to a place that produces these chemicals."

Alan Chandler, spokesman for SmithKline Beecham, said: "The company has placed a high priority on improving the emissions profile of the site and has achieved a 50 per cent reduction in prescribed substance emissions to the air since 1994.

"Everything we emit falls within the regulations."

Chris McDonald, regional manager of process industries for the Environment Agency, said: "SmithKline Beecham has made significant progress in reducing pollution."

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