Glasgow & West Scotland

Angry backlash at meeting over Coatbridge 'blue water' schools

Public meeting
Image caption Hundreds attended a public meeting over health fears at the two Coatbridge schools

An angry backlash erupted at a public meeting over health concerns at two North Lanarkshire schools.

Hundreds of people gathered at Townhill Community Centre in Coatbridge on Thursday to discuss health and safety concerns at a school campus.

Council and NHS officials were quizzed on whether "blue water" in the pipes was a health risk at St Ambrose and Buchanan High Schools.

The council said the campus, built on a former landfill site, is safe.

The Townhead Road school complex opened in 2012 on a site used for industrial waste, including lead and arsenic, between 1945 and 1972.

Image caption The Townhead Road campus in Coatbridge was completed in 2012

At the time of planning, concerns had been lodged over site contamination.

A water investigation team visited the campus in March 2018 and took samples of water from a medical room, snack area and home economics and science classrooms after concerns were voiced by staff and pupils.

Tests revealed copper levels were up to three times higher than recommended.

'Commissioning period'

That resulted in a recommendation that the campus' pipes be flushed weekly to reduce the risk of copper build-up in the system.

All pupils and staff were ordered to drink bottled water as a precautionary measure when the issue was first identified.

North Lanarkshire Council previously confirmed copper had been found in drinking water and all pipes in the building were refitted.

At the public meeting, Andrew McPherson, head of regulatory services and waste solutions at the local authority, told those attending the council believed the cause dated back to the commissioning period of the school.

Image caption Copper levels were tested at Buchanan High in March 2018

"Water was left for too long in the pipes and that caused corrosion of the pipes which couldn't be reversed," he said. "That is where the blue water was coming from."

One former janitor claimed "blue water" was first raised by her in 2013. The council said it was only made aware in 2017.

During the tense meeting, which was standing room only, some members of the public produced photos which appeared to show the playground "sinking" and "crumbling".

The local authority said more remedial works would be carried out over the summer break, including dealing with "settlement" issues.

Bosses stressed that the building and surrounding grounds were safe.

'No significant risk'

One mother became emotional as she told the meeting her son, who has learning difficulties, had gone from having 50-50 vision to becoming "totally blind".

She believes her son's health was put at risk by being a pupil at Buchanan High due to "high levels of arsenic in his system".

NHS Lanarkshire said it did not comment on individual cases but claimed a thorough investigation had been carried out and insisted there was "no public health risk from arsenic".

A health official was booed and met with cries of "liar" as he told the gathering there was "no significant risk to health from attending" the schools.

Image caption The campus houses Buchanan High and St Ambrose High in Coatbridge

Local SNP MSP Alex Neil and Labour MP Hugh Gaffney were applauded when they called for a formal inquiry to be held.

Mr Neil said: "The number of parents reporting various health problems, consistent health problems, ongoing health problems is way above the average.

"Public confidence has been eroded so I think the way forward... is for an external, independent team to examine that".

Mr Gaffney wanted the Scottish government to get involved.

'The school is safe'

SNP MSP Fulton McGregor, who arranged the public meeting, agreed that parents should have their wishes granted if they want their youngsters tested by medical professionals to alleviate concerns.

North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire said the land was not contaminated and that there was no health or safety threat to pupils or staff.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the council said said it was understandable that some parents, staff and community members had come to the meeting with genuine concerns.

But the council stressed: "The school is safe.

"The action taken by the council to address the issue of blue water has been resolved, the site on which the school campus is built has met national and international standards of remediation, and public health experts have confirmed that there is no link between blue water, the site itself and cancer or indeed any other serious illness."

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