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Children pulled out schools over 'blue water cancer fear'

Four teachers have developed bladder cancer after water warning at secondary school.

The £44m school campus in North Lanarkshire.
The £44m school campus in North Lanarkshire.

By Russell Findlay

When a new £44m school site opened in Lanarkshire seven years ago it was hailed as the best education campus in Scotland.

North Lanarkshire Council built Buchanan High School, St Ambrose High School and Townhead community centre in Coatbridge despite concerns about contamination on the former industrial waste site.

Tonight, the community centre will host what is expected to be a highly charged public meeting after a series of public health concerns emerged.

Four Buchanan High teachers have developed bladder cancer - with three of them working in the same corridor.

A number of pupils have also complained of becoming unwell, prompting their parents to keep them away from school. And some were earlier warned not to drink the water after it turned blue.

STV News has found that four St Ambrose pupils have formally withdrawn from the school with two from Buchanan.

Parents, pupils, teachers, residents and politicians are now demanding answers, which they believe can only be achieved with an independent public inquiry.

Former SNP health secretary Alex Neil told STV News that the school should shut down to allow a "totally independent, credible and urgent judicial inquiry".

He said: "My own view is that the school actually should be vacated until we get to the root cause of this because there are too many unanswered questions.

'I know of four other parents who have withdrawn their children but I've heard there are around 20 others who are thinking about it'
Lynn Stewart

"Many parents are thinking of taking their children out because they're rightly worried and I think they've got the right and justification to be worried.

"I think the council isn't really treating this with the seriousness that it requires. Now there's so little confidence left in the council's handling of this that an independent judicial inquiry is absolutely essential."

Parents who refuse to send their children back to the campus say they are not prepared to gamble with their health.

Lynn Stewart, mother of an S3 pupil at St Ambrose, will not send her to the school and has already found an alternative.

She said: "I've also got a son who has now left school but they will both be going to the GP for tests.

"I know of four other parents who have withdrawn their children but I've heard there are around 20 others who are thinking about it."

"These schools should never have been built there. This is not just about the blue water but about the quality of the air and the earth."

Tracy Richardson will not allow her son to return to S1 at St Ambrose after he complained of severe headaches.

She said: "At first I thought that I would take him out and that would be that but I could not live with myself if other children became ill and I had done nothing.

"That's why tonight's public meeting is so important. Parents need to be aware so that they can make their own choices.

Alex Neil: Calls for inquiry.
Alex Neil: Calls for inquiry. © STV

"It cannot be coincidence that four teachers would suffer the same form of cancer. The school should be closed until the full situation is known."

The campus was built on the former industrial waste landfill site which contains cadmium, nickel, zinc and lead. It also contains high levels of methane from household waste.

The council's decision to build was agreed by the Scottish Government in 2010 and it opened two years later.

St Ambrose High is North Lanarkshire's music comprehensive while Buchanan High teaches pupils with additional support needs.

John Wilson, a former MSP, campaigned against the development and believes the site was selected purely because of its low cost.

He told STV News: "I am deeply saddened to hear that teachers and pupils may be suffering from the effects of contamination emanating from the former industrial landfill site in Coatbridge.

"Despite raising concerns in 2008 about the suitability of building a school on a site affected by industrial and landfill waste, council officials and elected members took the decision to proceed with the building on a toxic site."

North Lanarkshire Council has been contacted for comment.

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