Health officials have refused to rescind guidance to people living in and around Salisbury not to pick up litter as fears linger over the dangers posed by the novichok poisonings more than three years ago.

Local leaders have called for people in rural areas surrounding the city to be allowed to resume litter picking so they can clean up areas. But Public Health England said they could not be sure it was safe. “As a precaution PHE continues to advise the public not to pick up any items. The advice remains ‘if you didn’t drop it, then don’t pick it up’,” a spokeswoman said.

Steve Milton, clerk to Alderbury parish council, said: “The common feeling in the village is that there is minimal risk. We are about five or six miles outside Salisbury. While the authorities may consider maintaining restrictions in Salisbury and Amesbury, where the poisonings took place, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of contamination here.”

Health officials believe the likelihood of any such contamination is low, but they said they were concerned about the consequences of anyone picking up possibly contaminated litter.

Two members of the public were known to be affected by the Novichok poison aimed at the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in March 2018. Dawn Sturgess died after sampling what she thought was perfume, given to her by Charlie Rowley, who survived the poison.

Public Health England said novichok dissolved when in contact with water but could last a long time in a sealed container.

Richard Britton, the councillor for Alderbury and Whiteparish, at Wiltshire council, told the BBC: “After three years, you would think that PHE would have got its act together and reconsidered their advice. Having left it so long I think they owe it to residents to sort this out very quickly.”

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