Independent review finds no link between Coatbridge campus and ill health

An independent review into a Coatbridge campus which was constructed on an industrial waste landfill site has concluded that the facility is safe for pupils and staff.

Independent review finds no link between Coatbridge campus and ill health

The Buchanan and St Ambrose High School campus was at the centre of health concerns after three members of staff had developed bladder cancer.

But a report published by the Scottish Government last week found no link between the school campus and ill health.

The independent review, led by chief planning reporter Paul Cackette and public health consultant Margaret Hannah, said that all water samples passed quality standards and the “blue water” that came out of the taps at one point was the result of copper, which posed no health risk.

The review was agreed between the Scottish Government, NHS Lanarkshire and North Lanarkshire Council following a number of claims made relating the site, or the drinking water in the schools, to serious illness.

The report found:

  • 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

If the work at that sample pit is being done by North Lanarkshire Council and independently verified to remove any residual risk or to otherwise render the area concerned safe, the review would support the schools opening this week.

Public health consultant Dr Margaret Hannah, who co-led the review, said: “Many people were concerned about possible health risks from the previous use of the campus site. We listened carefully to the concerns of parents and teachers and worked with various experts in their field to determine the areas to test within the campus.

“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.

“One of our recommendations includes convening a site recovery group to provide an open channel to share information and allow any concerns to be raised regarding the well-being of those on the campus. Working together is key to restoring public confidence and we hope our findings will help all the communities in Coatbridge and beyond work towards common goals and in the best interests of the pupils and 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.”

North Lanarkshire Council has confirmed that it will implement the recommendations swiftly.

Robert Steenson, executive director for enterprise and communities at North Lanarkshire Council, said: “The independent review’s report contains a number of recommendations which the council, working with parents, pupils, staff and members of the wider school community, will implement. Indeed, we have already begun to do so.

“The report also contains learning points for the council and we will reflect on these as we work through the detail of the report.

“In particular, the council fully accepts that the issue of blue water on the site - although harmless in terms of health - could have been dealt with at an earlier stage. However, all pipework has now been replaced and water fully complies with drinking quality standards. While swift action was taken to replace all pipework carrying drinking water when senior management became fully aware of the issue late last year, we have already revised our reporting systems to ensure matters of concern are consistently and swiftly dealt with.

“The review also makes clear that the council’s detailed and careful actions to assess the site before construction took place and the subsequent work were reasonable, appropriate and proportionate. In the case of the gas membrane, the experts engaged by the independent review make it clear that the level of protection designed was beyond that required.

“While the review states that the quality of the written information provided to parents was of a high quality, questions are raised about the timeliness of the council’s response and engagement with staff and trade unions. All communications will be internally reviewed to ascertain what lessons can be learned.”

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