Coatbridge’s Buchanan High teachers strike over health fears

Buchanan High
Image caption NASUWT members at Buchanan High are on strike

Teachers at a Lanarkshire school at the centre of chemical contamination fears have started a week-long strike.

NASUWT union members at Buchanan High School in Coatbridge have walked out after four teachers developed cancer.

The union is calling for the entire campus – built on a former landfill site – to be tested and its two schools to be closed early for the summer.

North Lanarkshire Council said no serious illness had been linked to the schools or the site.

The council said the assisted-special-needs school would be closed during the industrial action.

The row revolves around the Townhead Road campus, comprising Buchanan High, St Ambrose High and Townhead Community Centre.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The Townhead Road campus was built on a former industrial landfill site

The three opened in 2012 on a site that was used as landfill for industrial waste, including lead and arsenic, between 1945 and 1972.

In March 2018, bottled water was used at the high schools after blue-tinted water was discovered coming from pipes, with tests later revealing higher than recommended levels of copper. This was blamed on corrosion, and the pipes have since been replaced.

Fears over the safety of the site came to a head in recent weeks after it emerged four former or current members of staff at Buchanan High had received treatment for cancer.

However, the council and health board say specialist doctors do not believe cancer – or any other serious illness – was caused by the schools or the site on which they were built.

The NASUWT says its members feel their concerns have been dismissed, and it wants more to be done to reassure staff and parents.

The union has repeated calls for an independent full site review including up-to-date tests of the soil and air and for the schools to close immediately for the summer break.

A spokeswoman said: “The teachers are angry it has come to this. They are worried and anxious about the issues with the campus. We are taking this action to protect the health and safety of our members.

“The employer has a duty of care to the staff but they have little confidence in the statements made by the local authority.

“We are calling for sensible and reasonable requests for action from the local authority to safeguard our members and they have refused.”

Parental support

A total of 16 staff from Buchanan High will strike from 20 to 28 June, with members from St Ambrose joining the strike and bringing the numbers to about 40 on Tuesday 25 June.

Parents and children from the schools are expected to join teachers to show their support outside the school.

Lisa McCormick a spokesperson for the parents support group said: “We are sending a clear message to North Lanarkshire Council and to NHS Lanarkshire, something is making our children sick, something that the effects, in the main seem to disappear when our children leave the school premises.

“If it is not toxins and the campus is safe then what is it? Please stop relying on 10-year-old risk assessments to argue it is safe, do all the necessary tests.”

Image copyright Karen Morgan
Image caption Sunken ground has been visible around the sides of the building

The Scottish government announced an independent review of the site last week but parents said this did not go far enough.

On Wednesday, the independent review team visited both schools.

Paul Cackette and Dr Margaret Hannah, who are leading the review, met the head teachers of Buchanan High and St Ambrose, public health experts from NHS Lanarkshire and representatives of North Lanarkshire Council.

‘No evidence’

Ahead of the strike, Gerard McLaughlin, head of education at the council said, “Despite the facts being presented about the water being safe at the school campus and evidence demonstrating that it has been since early December and as recently as 29 April, and that public health has stated there is no evidence to support a link between blue water at the school or the site itself and any serious ill health, the NASUWT has decided to take industrial action at Buchanan High School.

“This follows extensive dialogue between senior council officials and representatives of the NASUWT over the last 24 hours.

“We understand the impact that this will have on pupils and parents at Buchanan High School as a direct consequence of this action. Having assessed the potential impact, we have regrettably decided that Buchanan High School will be unable to receive pupils during the period of industrial action due to the specific medical needs of some of the pupils.

“Neither the school nor the council would ever take any risks with young people’s safety.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *