Scientists studying a graveyard in Wolverhampton, England, have found that water is being contaminated underground by bacteria from decaying bodies, according to an article from the BBC's Web site ( The discovery is the result of the first-ever study of the impact of graveyards on ground water.

Two years ago, Danescourt Cemetery on the edge of Wolverhampton suffered massive subsidence in heavy rain. British Geological Survey (BGS) scientists were called in to find out what had happened, the article said. At the same time, they chose to take advantage of this opportunity to place bore holes in the cemetery and examine the ground water approximately 33 feet below the surface.

Through various tests, the scientists discovered the water was contaminated with bacteria, including faecal streptococci, which indicated a human source, the BBC reported. The ground water also contained staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium found on human skin this is responsible for most hospital-acquired infections - unusual to find in ground water.

Julian Trick from the BGS told the BBC, "We found bacteria which, along with other analyses, indicate a human source. We suspect now that bacteria involved in the decaying process are actually reaching the ground water."

According to the World Health Organization, the ground water was so badly affected it was described as "heavily contaminated," the BBC article said.

Scientists were surprised, however, because bacteria don't survive very well in the environment and certainly shouldn't last the five years it would take them to reach the water table, the BBC reported. But computer models of this site showed fractures in the rock were providing a fast route to ground water level. However, it is unlikely the contamination would spread far from the cemetery before being rendered harmless.

But this area is the site of Britain's second most important aquifer. In fact, there is a pumping station close to Danescourt Cemetery; however, it fortunately is located uphill and very unlikely to be contaminated. Britain's water is also treated to stop any sort of contamination reaching the consumer.

The BBC reported that this research will be useful in developing countries where cemeteries are often close to local wells.