'Blue water' school is safe, insists headteacher

​​​​​​​Head says that the water is safe at Coatbridge high school and that it is not the cause of cases of bladder cancer

Tes Reporter

The headteacher of one of the 'blue water' schools in Coatbridge has denied that water contamination is behind cases of cancer

The headteacher of a Coatbridge school built on a former landfill site has said that the premises are safe and not responsible for several cases of bladder cancer.

In an interview with the Herald on Sunday, St Ambrose High head Ellen Douglas urged those concerned about the situation to listen to experts who say there is no link to cancer, despite fears about drinking water in the school that had turned blue.

She said: “Based on what I understand, and has been shared with me over time from the experts, then it’s my belief that this school is not causing cancer.”

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School safety fears

Regarding how the fears of contamination had emerged, Ms Douglas said: “People will often look for explanations and, depending on how deeply we look for it, we can very often come up with answers that don’t quite join together.”

Ms Douglas said she fully understands the concerns of parents and has empathy for those who have cancer, but that the dates do not add up.

“I understand that the latency period of bladder cancer is something in excess of 10 years. And given that this campus opened in November 2012, the chronology tells me that that is the case," she said.

“I can’t imagine for a minute that people in public health would lie about latency periods, since that will obviously be in the public domain.”

'Blue water' investigation

The safety of two adjoining North Lanarkshire Council schools in Coatbridge, Buchanan High and St Ambrose, has come under the spotlight recently. The schools are located on land that had previously been used for burying domestic and industrial waste, although the grounds have been deemed safe.

However, concerns were raised that drinking water on the campus had turned blue. It has since been reported that four serving and retired teachers at Buchanan High have bladder cancer. Parent have also pointed to pupils who have suffered ill health.

North Lanarkshire Council tried to address the fears by explaining that the blue tinge was caused by copper in pipes, which is not carcinogenic. The local authority has replaced all but one of the copper pipes and the blue water has gone.

Hundreds of pupils have been kept off school by their parents and some teachers at Buchanan, who are represented by the NASUWT trade union, have gone on strike. St Ambrose teachers in the NASUWT will take industrial action next week.

Education secretary John Swinney, who has said that the water is safe, announced an independent review to help “address concerns”.

Teacher strike action

While members of NASUWT Scotland are taking strike action, teachers in the larger EIS union are not, although the EIS has said that members of the union who work at the schools have “raised significant and legitimate health and safety concerns".

At a public meeting earlier this month, Dr David Cromie, of NHS Lanarkshire, tried to reassure parents but was met with cries of “liar”.

Ms Douglas said: “I felt sorry for Dr Cromie. Sad that it was happening in St Ambrose High School. I felt it was unjust because he came along to present his clear understanding of the situation.”

She added: “It is gut-wrenching to watch a community wounded in the way that this community’s been wounded.”

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