Parents and teachers 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. We believe that all those officials did so. Unfortunately an atmosphere developed around this school campus in which parents and staff did not feel they were properly listened to and their concerns addressed.
This issue was a long time brewing. Mistrust built over many years. The public meeting on 6 June 2019 was, in some ways, the final straw.
We gathered evidence and, in some cases, sought further evidence from many sources, in order to fully consider the issues giving rise to concern. These were about the history of the site (Chapter 4), health matters (Chapter 5), water quality (Chapter 6), soil quality (Chapter 7), air quality and the methane membrane (Chapter 8), settlement (Chapter 9) and the response of North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire (Chapter 10).
For the reasons we set out in Chapter 5 of this Report and from the evidence we have considered, we believe the school and site are safe. We conclude that there is no causal link between the well-documented hazards causing such public concern and any ill-health of those who work or who are taught on this site. In our view, there is no causal link between arsenic and the bladder cancer cases at Buchanan High school.
We have looked at the evidence of what contaminants were on the site historically and the remediation measures associated with the school project. We have assessed the environmental samples taken in July 2019. At all times, a precautionary approach has been taken to risk assessment.
The risk from hazardous contaminants in the soil is very low.
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 so as to restore confidence in the site. If that work is being done by North Lanarkshire Council and independently verified to remove any residual risk or to otherwise render the area safe, we would support the opening of the schools. We believe that can be done quickly by North Lanarkshire Council and that they will do so.
This recommendation is purely as a precautionary measure. It does not mean that we think there is an unacceptable risk on the site.
The water at the campus is safe to drink (as set out in Chapter 6). The blue water found in the past is caused by copper which is not a significant health risk. Copper does not cause cancer.
There is no reason not to open the schools based on the blue water issue. However, the evidence we have seen leads us to recommend certain further precautionary testing of the water over the period ahead by Scottish Water.
An important part of our focus was on the methane gas membrane, installed as a precautionary measure after planning consent was granted. We sought to understand its purpose and the potential risks it was guarding against. We wanted to understand how the public can have confidence that it is safe. Chapter 8 explains this and the related issues concerning air quality and we are satisfied that there is no cause for public concern relating to this membrane nor gases from the site.
In Chapter 4, we have looked at the site history and the planning process. We have looked at the work done to find out what hazards existed on the site and what risks they posed. We consider the work done to be thorough and professional. The choices made by North Lanarkshire Council on relevant advice were all reasonable and appropriate decisions for them to make on the evidence before them.
As set out in Chapter 10, we consider though that there are matters that North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire could have done better and from which they must learn.
We also think that parents and staff - though right to have raised concerns so as to be heard - can be confident that they have now been heard and are now being listened to.
As we encourage North Lanarkshire Council to look ahead and engage and connect with the school communities, we urge parents and staff to do the same. We recommend closer and deeper consultation and better engagement in the management of this site from now on. Working together with shared outcomes and goals in mind, gives an opportunity to put these troubles behind.
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