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Environmental health flaws

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If visitors to Sweden last week had read the papers they may well have left thinking that a complaint about some dodgy chicken could lead to their being shot with an illegal weapon and dumped in the shallow waters of a polluted beach.

Well, perhaps not, but there were health hazards galore in this week's press and Metro clucked the loudest about the discovery of fifteen tonnes of foul fowl winging its way to the nation's eateries. At least 129 restaurants took delivery of the salmonella-infected chicken, which had been imported from Germany.

"Yet another example of how careful you have to be when you buy chicken from abroad," said Karin Granath of Stockholm Council's environmental health department, doing her bit for Sweden's poultry farmers.

Of the restaurants affected, 52 were in central Stockholm while the rest were spread over the country, and about a fifth of the infected chicken has been tracked down and returned to food inspectors. As for the rest of it - let's just say that fish has never been more appealing.

Which brings us to the beaches, and Monday's DN declared - in typically gloomy fashion - that 18 Swedish beaches failed to meet EU standards for water cleanliness, an increase of 14 from the previous year. The alternative take on the story was that the quality of bathing water is considered to be improving in Sweden overall.

The story was prompted by the annual report on Europe's beaches from EU Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallström. The results are based on samples taken last summer and 664 out of 786 Swedish beaches received the highest mark of 'good water quality' - a significant increase on the previous year.

Wallström emphasised that the health risks involved with bathing at a 'failed' beach were not huge, although caution was warranted if a beach had been failed several years in a row. Trelleborg's beaches fall into this category, with three successive failures. Bathers can be exposed to an increased risk of an upset stomach.

That left Svenska Dagbladet to dip its toe into an altogether more alarming story: unauthorised weapons which are left behind when people die are becoming increasingly commonplace in Sweden.

When a registered gun-owner passes away, his or her weapon should be confiscated by the police, unless it has specifically been left to another person with a licence. But at the end of last year, 2,247 such weapons were still to be collected two years after the owners' deaths.

As the paper pointed out, when the owner dies "these weapons become illegal. They can end up on the black market, can be used in crimes or even against the police themselves."

Claes Johansson, a weapons expert at the National Police Board (NPB), wasn't impressed.

"In some places the police haven't understood that this is no joke," he told SvD. "If they don't deal with this it's going to be a problem."

The paper also revealed that when the NPB looked into the state of affairs in Värmland, they found that it wasn't just dead people's guns that weren't being reclaimed - it was also those belonging to people whose licence had been revoked because they had committed violent crimes.

The law says that the police can confiscate a weapon as soon as it looks likely that a licence will be revoked because the owner has committed a violent crime. But some gun owners in Värmland who had lost their licences still had their weapons three months later.

"This is an exception," said Claes Johansson.

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