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Blue water schools: Teachers who developed cancer question safety review after inquiry team under-report number of cases

Parents pack into a public meeting at St Ambrose High in June when council and health board faced fierce criticism over handling of crisis
Parents pack into a public meeting at St Ambrose High in June when council and health board faced fierce criticism over handling of crisis

Teachers who developed bladder cancer while working at a school built on a toxic landfill site yesterday questioned the safety review that gave the campus the all-clear.

They said four of them have the same form of the disease, not three as the Government-ordered inquiry reported on Friday.

The teachers, three of whom worked in the same corridor, believe far more air tests should have been ordered by the inquiry team who cleared Buchanan High and St Ambrose, which share a campus in Coatbridge, to open at the start of term.

Yesterday, one of the teachers said: “We were very surprised to see this review state there are just three of us with bladder cancer. There are most definitely four of us.

“We are all well known to each other. None of us has had either a misdiagnosis or a miraculous recovery.

“One of us initially had bowel cancer. A year after getting the ‘all clear’, there was a diagnosis of bladder cancer.

“Our shared diagnosis was one of the central reasons that prompted the review and to get that wrong does not instil great confidence in the rest of the findings.”

The report by Dr Margaret Hannah, an independent public health consultant, said a cluster of three bladder cancer cases had been investigated but could not be linked to the toxic landfill site where the school was built. The report describes bladder cancer, which accounts for just 3% of cancer diagnosis, as not uncommon and concludes the cluster of cases at Buchanan High is coincidental.

The teacher, the second to be diagnosed, said: “We and other teachers still working at the school are deeply unhappy at the way this has been conducted. The review didn’t have time to properly investigate health concerns people have regarding this school.”

We revealed the bladder cancer diagnosis in May, and a second teacher who was found to have the disease said: “Three of the four teachers with bladder cancer all worked within the same 25-metre radius at Buchanan High.

“We’ve always believed there is a ‘hot spot’ but feel this has not been properly investigated.

“The government who allowed the school campus to be built on a toxic dump site and the local authority who have behaved dreadfully throughout all of this have far too much to lose.

“The team should have been made up of experts who have no local or Scottish government links.”

Teaching union the NASUWT say staff are still concerned about safety and are discussing if planned industrial action will go ahead this week while their experts study the review findings.

The Sunday Post View: Say nothing and do nothing… Civic Scotland steeped in sullen silence over mesh and blue water schools – click here to read more

The government-ordered independent review has also been questioned by environmental expert Professor Andrew Watterson.

The professor, who has worked for the World Health Organisation, said: “I’m completely baffled about the continuing lack of transparency in disclosing the details of the bladder cancer cluster analysis. The analysis we’ve not seen may have argued bladder cancer was a secondary cancer linked to the bowel cancer but even if that is the case it still adds up to four bladder cancer cases.”

He said the review failed to carry out air testing for a range of chemicals in the school building despite him alerting them to evidence of 29 substances which have a ‘strong’ or ‘good’ evidence of occupational bladder cancer risk, and the apparent lack of monitoring on site from 2012 onwards.

He said: “However unlikely it is that there is an occupational cause to the cluster of four bladder cancer cases, there is a strong argument to test air and dust samples in the building for carcinogens.”

“They did not commission air testing for chemicals linked either to the earlier soil analyses or possibly linked to bladder cancer.

The review team headed by Dr Hannah, a retired former NHS Fife public health expert, said PCBs – industrial compounds linked to liver, stomach and thyroid cancers – had been found at one of 50 sites where soil was tested. She said North Lanarkshire Council should remove the material but said the school was safe.

The review, which took place over the summer, found no link between the school and health concerns among teachers and pupils.

But North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire were criticised by the inquiry team for failing to act quickly or openly to effectively address the concerns of teachers, parents and pupils.

On Friday, Dr Hannah said: “Our principal finding is the school is safe, the site is safe and there is no link between the school and the reported health issues.”