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Review into ‘blue water’ schools finds no link between campus site and ill health

© Chris Austin / DCT MediaThe campus
The campus

An independent review into ‘blue water’ schools in North Lanarkshire has concluded that they are safe for pupils and teachers.

The inquiry was ordered following health and safety concerns raised at the Buchanan and St Ambrose High School campus in Coatbridge.

Last year, it had been revealed that the tap water on the site had turned blue, while earlier this year The Sunday Post revealed four teachers from Buchanan High – three of whom worked in the same corridor – were battling bladder cancer.

Parents had also raised concerns of a link between possible exposure to chemicals and illness among staff and pupils.

Tests carried out for the review at the school campus, which was built on a former landfill site, have found no link to ill health.

Water samples taken at the site pass all quality standards and the methane membrane under the school building was installed correctly and no landfill related gases were detected, the report published on Friday said.

Tests found the concentration of contaminants measured in soil samples were not of concern, with the exception of elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at one location.

The review, co-led by public health consultant Dr Margaret Hannah, recommended North Lanarkshire Council completes a “full and independently verified removal of the chemical” as soon as possible.

The review said it would support the reopening of the schools at the start of the new term on Monday.

Dr Hannah said: “Our principal finding is that the schools are safe, the site is safe and there is no link between the school and the reported health issues.

“However we have made recommendations for some work to be carried out in order to provide further public reassurance.”

Robert Steenson, executive director for enterprise and communities at North Lanarkshire Council, said: “We are pleased that the independent review agrees with the council’s position throughout, which is that the schools are safe and that there is no link between the schools and any serious illness.

“We look forward to welcoming pupils back for the start of the term next week to what are outstanding, high-performing schools with enthusiastic and dedicated staff.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “I am grateful to the Review Team for their work over the last two months. This has been a complex and challenging set of circumstances to review in such a short timescale.

“The report provides reassurance to parents, pupils and staff of the school that there are no links between ill-health and the campus.

“The review also finds, however, that North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire did not handle this issue at all well. They did not engage with parents sufficiently early or in an inclusive manner. The recommendations will ensure statutory bodies engage far more proactively with parents, staff and pupils to rebuild the trust and learn lessons from this for the future.

“Children should enjoy school life and I hope this is the case for pupils at Buchanan and St Ambrose High Schools.”

Yesterday, the NASUWT teaching union said its members would not return to to work at the site until they have consulted with experts to analyse the report.

Commenting on the report today, Chris Keates, General Secretary (Acting) of the NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union, said: “This is a detailed Report which requires careful consideration.

“The NASUWT has now passed the Report to the experts, who have been advising the Union throughout this dispute, for their review and advice.

“Once we have received their comments, we can then make a decision about the return to work of NASUWT members.

“In the light of this, pending the receipt of that advice, the strike action remains in place as scheduled for Monday 12th August. The Union will keep the position under review.

“The Union has advised the Council of this decision and has also taken the opportunity to seek answers to some preliminary questions about the Report.

“We are concerned to ensure that the Council is adopting all of the recommendations and we have asked for the immediate release of the periodic testing results for the membrane as per Recommendation 4.

“We have also asked for a written commitment from the Council to make public a report on the remediation work to remove the PCBs, which is to be carried out between today and 11th August.

“Additionally, in the light of paragraph 10.10 of the Report referring to NHS Lanarkshire, we have asked the Council to confirm whether they will agree to pay for the heavy metal testing for our members as requested by our solicitors last week.”


The report findings in full:

  • water samples all pass drinking water quality standards. The review recommends North Lanarkshire Council and Scottish Water should further sample water in the coming months to address some minor quality issues
  • the methane membrane under the school building was installed correctly and no landfill related gases were detected at that time and now
  • fifty soil samples were taken from soft landscaped areas, fifteen from raised beds and tested for various contaminants. The concentrations measured in soils, with the exception of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at one location, are not of concern
    elevated levels of PCB were found in one sample pit on the periphery of the site. The review recommends North Lanarkshire Council completes a full and independently verified removal of the chemical as soon as possible
  • the review recommends a site recovery group, made up of site users and community leaders, to provide an open and transparent channel for any concerns to be raised regarding the well-being of those on the campus