An independent review into long-running concerns over water at a school campus in Coatbridge has concluded that the schools are safe and that there is no link between the site and any illness.
More than 16,000 people signed a petition on change.org calling on North Lanarkshire Council to test every pupil of Buchanan and St Ambrose High Schools, past and present, for toxins or contamination and demanding an independent investigation of the campus site to "check the site is safe from toxic waste".
But public health consultant Dr Margaret Hannah, who co-led the review for the Scottish government, said today: “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.”
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Parents have spoken of blue water coming from taps at the schools, built on a former landfill site, and have expressed fears of a link between possible exposure to chemicals and illness among staff and pupils.
The NASUWT teachers' union said before the report was published that unless members are satisfied the site poses no health risks, they will not return to work on Monday.
Before the findings were published, general secretary Chris Keates said: "Our members' summer break has been blighted by the serious stress and anxiety of the concerns about the risks to their own and their colleagues' health."
She added: "Regardless of what the test results say, all the signs of potential risks to the health and welfare of staff and pupils have been evident for a considerable period of time and yet at every stage it seemed that both the government and the council had to be dragged kicking and screaming to take any action, exacerbating the anxiety of those working on, and using, the site."
Deputy first minister and education secretary 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.”
The report published this morning makes the following findings and recommendations:
Water samples all pass drinking water quality standards, but 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, 15 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 fringes 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 above is being done by North Lanarkshire Council and is “independently verified to remove any residual risk or to otherwise render the area concerned safe”, the review would support the schools opening next week.
Dr Hannah said: “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.”
More reaction will follow later.