'Blue water' Coatbridge schools found to be safe

9 August 2019, 19:17

Bluewater schools

Tests carried out at a school campus built on a former landfill site have found no link to ill health.

Tests carried out at a school campus built on a former landfill site have found no link to ill health.

An independent review into the Buchanan and St Ambrose High School campus at Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, has concluded the schools are safe to attend.

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.

The investigation was ordered after parents and teachers spoke of blue water coming from taps at the schools, and expressed fears of a link between possible exposure to chemicals and illness among staff and pupils.

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."

The review also recommended the regular testing of drinking water on the campus and publication of the results, and the setting up of a group of site users to allow any concerns to be raised.

The council said it would implement the recommendations "swiftly", with work to remove the chemical found in a sample on the edge of the site to be carried out by Monday.

The local authority accepted the issue of blue water "although harmless in terms of health" could have been dealt with earlier. All pipework has since been replaced.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who ordered the review on June 12, said the findings would reassure parents, pupils and staff.

He added: "The review 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."

The NASUWT teachers' union said plans for strike action from Monday remain in place while experts analyse the report, but its position will be kept under review.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of teaching union EIS, said: "Whilst we accept the majority of the inquiry's conclusions, it is clear that the concerns at these schools should have been treated very differently by North Lanarkshire Council.

"Its mishandling of the situation on several occasions has increased stress and anxiety levels amongst teachers, parents and pupils.

"It is essential that the council now works positively to rebuild trust with all members of the school communities. The recommended site recovery group, which we welcome, offers a vehicle for doing that by ensuring active ongoing monitoring of the site."

Gabe Docherty, director of public health at NHS Lanarkshire, said: "We remain committed to working with all partners to provide the support and reassurance required around public health to enable the school to move forward positively and confidently."