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Independent group aims to restore confidence after contamination scare

Group members include a former director of NHS Lanarkshire and a chemistry reader at Strathclyde University.

A site recovery group has been set up to ensure that safety measures ordered for the Buchanan and St Ambrose high schools in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire are fully implemented. 

The group will be chaired by depute lord lieutenant of Lanarkshire, Terry Currie. Dr Christine Davidson, chemistry reader at Strathclyde University, will provide expert advice. 

Four teachers working at the schools, which was built on landfill site used by a steelworks, were reported in May to have contracted a rare form of bladder cancer. 

Concerned about exposure to toxic chemicals, teachers subsequently took strike action and some parents removed their children from classes. An independent review, was ordered by the Scottish Health Secretary in June.

The review concluded that there was "no causal link" between attending the school and health concerns. The schools’ water supply was of drinking quality and a methane membrane designed to protect the site from ground gases was operating effectively.

Elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found at one sample area but the contaminated material was removed.

The review recommended that an independent site recovery group be set up. The group, including pupils, staff, parents and union representatives, will consider reports on school and ground maintenance and the condition of the gas membrane and water and air quality. It will provide a channel for worries, raise any problems identified with North Lanarkshire Council and produce an annual site assessment. 

The review also recommended that further water quality sampling be carried out and that information on the methane membrane should be published.

Currie formerly worked for British Steel. He was a founder member of the Lanarkshire Civic Pride campaign, served on the boards of New Lanarkshire Ltd and Scottish business in the community was a non-executive director of NHS Lanarkshire.

He said: "I agree with the review’s authors that the group has a key role to play in restoring confidence and receiving monitoring reports on water and air quality. We will also be able to hear any concerns from the campus community and engage with the council to raise these."

Davidson is carrying out research in environmental analytical chemistry, including risks to human health from environmental pollutants. She said that the group would help to bring a sense of ownership back to the school and community.

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