Chapter Eleven: Conclusions
11.1 The conclusions we draw are largely unique to this situation and caution should be taken in making generalisations from them. We have published today, with some provisos, to inform decisions by North Lanarkshire Council as Education Authority on whether these two schools should open in light of the findings we make from our investigation of the facts in this Review.
11.2 Parents and staff were right to raise concerns. They were entitled to be listened to and heard. They were entitled to expect that North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire officials would take their concerns seriously and address them.
11.3 North Lanarkshire Council were aware of the site history and took reasonable professional and scientific advice to address concerns in a proportionate and responsible way. It was known and understood by all concerned – officials and elected members – that this was a brownfield site being brought into productive use.
11.4 The detailed and careful steps taken in assessing the risks of ground water contamination (and related work concerning risks of water contamination) were reasonable, appropriate and proportionate to the risks arising at the relevant time. They represent a suitably precautionary approach, mindful of the intended use of the site and the work was peer reviewed in an appropriate manner.
11.5 The GP was right to raise the concern when a cluster of cancer cases occurred at Buchanan High and for the public health team to investigate if this was linked to copper in the water supply or an unknown environmental exposure at the school.
11.6 Reviewing the evidence summarised in our report, we see no causal link between these three cases of bladder cancer and attending the school. The remaining two members of staff had two different kinds of cancer and no plausible explanation could link all of these together with the school. Furthermore, there is no causal link between arsenic and the bladder cancer cases at Buchanan High school.
11.7 It was right to raise a query about the source of arsenic and whether it was the cause of a pupil's blindness. In response, NHS Lanarkshire's investigation was thorough and conclusive. We agree with them there is no causal link between arsenic and the sight loss or other health conditions reported at the two schools.
11.8 It was important for people to raise their health concerns with the Independent review team. The symptom profile was very similar to that submitted in the report by Scottish Hazards. We agree with the analysis undertaken by Health Protection Scotland on behalf of the Review and conclude that this pattern of symptoms are not consistent with exposure to any specific chemical nor constitute a distinct clinical syndrome.
11.9 On the basis of these investigations, we conclude additional case finding was not required by NHS Lanarkshire and we agree with the advice given to GPs to continue to treat and investigate patients from the schools as they would for any other patient based on their symptoms and signs.
11.10 The risk from hazardous contaminants in the soil is very low. We reached that view informed by expert advice, undertaken in a thorough and systematic way and has covered a wide range of potential contaminants. The laboratories used are all accredited and the risk assessment set at a precautionary level.
11.11 As there are no pathways from under the school building, car park areas and synthetic playing fields, no risks arise in respect of materials beneath the school, car parks or synthetic playing fields (and we deal with methane below).
11.12 In other parts of the campus soft landscaped, we consider the risk of contamination very low, based on a precautionary approach taken at the time of construction and in our sampling in July 2019.
11.13 Despite that general conclusion, we have found a localised source sample at pit HP50 with elevated levels of PCB's and advise remediation on a purely precautionary basis. These are highly localised as evidenced by the absence of contaminants in neighbouring sites. We recommend remediation (or otherwise work required to render the area safe) as a matter of urgency, so as to restore confidence.
11.14 With this work under way and residual issues being satisfactorily managed, in our view the school and site are safe.
11.15 Our Recommendation 1 reflects these concerns.
11.16 We conclude that staff were right to raise concerns about copper in the drinking water supply and these were not addressed seriously or quickly enough by North Lanarkshire Council. Fortunately, we have identified no significant health impacts either short or long term from drinking the water and the replacement of pipes and following Scottish Water's advice subsequent to their recent sampling should address the problem on a permanent basis.
11.17 Our Recommendations 2 and 3 reflect the responses to those concerns.
11.18 While we are generally assured in respect of the gas membrane installed as a precautionary measure on construction, we are conscious of the importance in making public more detailed material about the records of previous periodic testing and of the proposals we make at Chapter 10 concerning Site Recovery.
11.19 Therefore, we recommend that North Lanarkshire Council make publicly available as soon as possible the periodic testing results for the membrane since its installation.
11.20 Continued confidence in the methane membrane is essential. While, as at the date of this Report, we consider that parents and staff can have a high level of confidence in it, it would seem remiss not to include the taking of appropriate steps to monitor its continued effectiveness over the period ahead. We therefore include the methane membrane and ongoing assurance as to its integrity as an element of the Site Recovery Group's work.
11.21 Our Recommendation 4 reflects these concerns.
11.22 We have concluded, in light of the explanation concerning methane and because of other findings, that no wholesale air testing is essential. However, we have made findings about the sub-optimal indoor air quality apparently resulting from poor circulation of fresh air. We make no recommendations in that regard, but for the reasons we set out consider this an appropriate issue for possible taking forward in the work of the Site Recovery Group.
11.23 Although we wholly understand and welcome the raising of concerns by parents, staff and MSPs, we also recognise that, having properly done so, a counter risk arises. This is the risk that in raising public awareness, it can at times also sow fear and alarm particularly if health issues exist with other causes. We have seen this in some of the emails to us, linking health concerns automatically with the site, right or wrong.
11.24 We do not criticise parents and staff for raising legitimate worries, but conclude that now is the time that those whose felt unheard before can be confident that they have now been heard. Now is the time to engage and connect with what we suggest at paragraph 10.28.
11.25 We conclude in Chapter 10 that the response of North Lanarkshire Council was too slow, too defensive and too disconnected from the school communities.
11.26 We conclude that there are matters that North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire could have done better and from which they must learn.
11.27 We encourage North Lanarkshire Council to look ahead to engage and connect better with the school communities. We recommend closer and deeper consultation and better engagement in the management of this site from now on. We believe that this can represent an important step in restoring confidence in North Lanarkshire Council.
11.28 This is reflected in our Recommendation 5.
11.29 If North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire (for their interest) accept the conclusions above and the recommendations we make, we would support the opening of the schools.
11.30 As we note, that is not the end point for the addressing of the concerns raised. Our recommendations provide a way forward, in the medium to long term.
11.31 In the immediate period ahead, North Lanarkshire Council need to consider how to ensure the safe and supported steps essential to allow that to be done. That is an immediate responsibility. We recognise that parents and staff all have different views and levels of confidence in North Lanarkshire Council, but North Lanarkshire Council remain the Education Authority with duties to provide education. They must reach out in a flexible way to those affected to recognise those different views but assist them to ensure attendance.
11.32 Working together with shared outcomes and goals in mind, in our view gives an opportunity to put these troubles behind.