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Teachers strike at school built on toxic landfill site after four develop rare bladder cancer

There are concerns over blue water and health impacts at the school. Credit: ITV News

Teachers have begun a strike at a school built on a landfill site after four members of staff were diagnosed with a rare form of bladder cancer.

Health concerns have been raised about Buchanan and St Ambrose High Schools in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, after allegations of pupils and staff suffering ill health, and incidents of blue water coming out of the taps.

Parents say they are concerned about metal industry and household waste buried beneath the school.

Children have been pulled out of both schools after showing up to six times higher levels of arsenic in their blood.

A statement from the council said that the schools and site are safe, and that doctors and the local health department had found "no incidence of cancer is linked to the schools", and "that no other serious illness is connected to the schools or the site on which they are built".

Despite this, the strikes are still going ahead and more than 9,000 people have signed a petition on change.org calling on North Lanarkshire Council to test every pupil and member of staff 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”.

Soon after the school was opened in 2012, blue water also came out of the taps, something thought to have been caused by copper pipes but which is not regarded harmful.

The pipes have since been replaced.

Blue water came out of taps at the school soon after it opened. Credit: ITV News

The NASUWT union, which represents 12 teachers at Buchanan High School said: “Whilst the NASUWT is in dispute over the situation at the school we have taken the unprecedented step of removing our members from the school site because of the serious health and safety concerns.

“The failure of the employer to act to address these concerns is unacceptable and our legal advisers are also taking appropriate action.

“No stone should be left unturned when the health of staff and pupils is at risk.

“The NASUWT should not be in a position where we have to take such action, but if an employer fails to act appropriately we will.”

Its members will strike on June 20 and 21 and between June 24 and 28.

Tommi Morgan with his mother outside hospital. Credit: ITV News

Despite the assurances from the council, allegations of pupils suffering ill health have been made by parents.

Autistic first-year pupil Tommi Morgan lost his eyesight just three months after starting at Buchanan High in Scotland.

Tests revealed the first year student had levels of arsenic in his system three times that of normal levels.

Calls to close the school until a Government review is complete began to grow after reports of a second child found with high levels of arsenic in their system.

The girl affected has been taken out of S3 (the third year) at St Ambrose and enrolled at another school.

The girl’s mother, who's asked not to be identified, told STV News: "For at least a year, my daughter has been unwell with extreme fatigue, sickness and pains in her eyes, legs and stomach.

"Despite repeated tests, no-one knew what the problem was."

She continued: "It was only when press stories began to emerge about the school that I told her hospital consultant and he immediately ordered fresh testing which revealed high levels of arsenic in her system.

"She tested at around levels six times the expected level and the consultant was very concerned.

"We were horrified but in some ways we are lucky because we have some answers.

"Many other parents have not had access to these tests so they cannot make an informed decision about what is best for their children.

"It's been a living nightmare."

There were higher levels of copper in the water than normal. Credit: ITV News

Concerns were initially raised over blue water at the £44 million campus soon after it opened.

Blue water is caused by copper pipes and is not regarded as harmful but the council replaced more than one mile of copper piping with plastic pipes across the site.

North Lanarkshire Council has set up a dedicated website with information about the situation at the campus.

It says: “Public health experts at NHS Lanarkshire have confirmed that there is no link between the site of Buchanan and St Ambrose High Schools and cases of cancer following an investigation and assessment which the council fully co-operated with.

“In addition, those experts have found no link to date with any other illnesses.

"The council will continue to provide any information required by NHS Lanarkshire.

“The safety of pupils and staff is the council’s primary concern in any circumstances.

“There is no credible evidence to suggest that any serious illness has been caused by environmental factors associated with the school site or copper previously being present in the drinking water supply.”

Tommi Morgan's level of Arsenic in his body were three times that of normal levels. Credit: ITV News

The site was used as landfill from 1945 to 1972, and domestic refuse and waste materials from the former Gartsherrie Steelworks were deposited there.

A North Lanarkshire Council spokesperson said: “Specialist doctors from the public health department of NHS Lanarkshire have confirmed that no incidence of cancer is linked to the schools.

“They have also confirmed that no other serious illness is connected to the schools or the site on which they are built.

“The council will liaise directly with trade unions on matters of concern to staff.

"All the facts demonstrate that the schools and the site on which they are built is safe.”