Independent review announced into health and safety at ‘blue water’ school

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An independent review into health and safety concerns at a school where four current and former teachers were diagnosed with cancer has been announced by the Scottish Government.

Health concerns have been raised about Buchanan and St Ambrose High Schools in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, after incidents of blue water coming from taps at the campus, which is built on a former landfill site.

Thirty-seven teachers from the NASUWT union have voted for strike action at the two schools, while more than 13,400 people have signed a petition calling for an investigation and for staff and pupils to be tested for toxins.

North Lanarkshire Council has said the schools and the site are safe.

The Scottish Government is now launching an “independent and impartial” review of health and safety at the campus.

It will address health concerns including possible exposure to unspecified chemicals resulting from previous land use at the new school site and attending the school and acquiring cancer, specifically bladder cancer.

The review – which has been jointly agreed between the Scottish Government, North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire – will also look into the presence of copper in the drinking water supply, and attendance at the school and the acquisition and impact of elevated blood levels of arsenic.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “There have been a number of significant concerns raised by families, teachers and elected representatives about the safety of the Buchanan and St Ambrose High School.

“I recognise that North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire have undertaken extensive work in an effort to address the concerns expressed by the local community.

“However, in light of continuing concerns being raised, ministers have agreed with North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire to immediately commission an impartial, independent review.

“This will assess existing evidence and determine if more needs to be done to further mitigate any concerns of pupils, their parents and staff and provide further reassurance to the local community.”

Two of the four teachers are still current members of staff, while the other two have retired.

It is not known how long the review will take, but the findings are expected “as soon as practicable” and before the start of the next academic year.

The review will be led by the Scottish Government’s chief planning reporter, Paul Cackette, and Dr Margaret Hannah, a former director of Public Health.

North Lanarkshire Council chief executive Des Murray said: “We welcome this review and the support of the Scottish Government in addressing the concerns of families, staff and the local community.”

NHS Lanarkshire chief executive Calum Campbell said: “Following thorough investigations by our public health department we believe the schools to be safe.

“We welcome the review as an opportunity to provide even further reassurance to families, staff at the schools and the community.

“We look forward to working with the review team to support this work.”

The site was used as landfill from 1945 to 1972 and domestic refuse and waste materials from the former Gartsherrie Steelworks were deposited there.

Tests at the campus found higher levels of copper in the water in some areas of the school, which can lead to discolouration.

More than 1,800 metres of copper piping has been replaced with plastic pipes across the site, opened in 2012, which also includes Townhead Community Centre.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT – the Teachers’ Union, said: “The NASUWT welcomes the review in principle and that the Scottish Government appears to be taking the issues at the school seriously.

“However, this does not remove the immediate pressures, anxieties and concerns of the teachers at the school and the NASUWT still believes that action needs to be taken, pending the outcome of this review, to address these concerns and alleviate the anxiety staff are facing, anxiety which we know will be shared by parents and the community.”

Meanwhile, the Educational Institute of Scotland has written to the Scottish Government and to the Health and Safety Executive, urging them to act on the case of two schools.

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