Conservative-enabled Labour North Lanarkshire’s unconvincing denial of school cancer links

(c) Sunday Post

Note: This is out of my comfort zone, so I welcome comment and correction.

A statement from Labour/Conservative North Lanarkshire Council insists:

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.

We don’t get to see the evidence and the occurrence of bladder cancer in four teachers still rings alarm bells. One said:

I kept hearing the phrase ‘there is no significant risk to health’ – so what are four teachers with the same bladder cancer if they are not significant?

His confusion is not surprising. The school, Buchanan High in Coatbridge, opened in November 2012 on a site used by the former Gartsherrie Iron Works. Metal workers are known to have a higher incidence of bladder cancer due to exposure to polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in their working environment. See these sources:

Also, at high risk for bladder cancer and death from the disease were those exposed to heavy metals, diesel and combustion products. People working around toxins called polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons were at heightened risk, the study found. People exposed to these potential carcinogens include metal workers.

Metal workers, machinists, transport equipment operators and miners are among the major occupations contributing to occupational bladder cancer in men in Western Europe. In this population one in 10 to one in 20 cancers of the bladder can be attributed to occupation.

Occupations in which PAH exposure is associated with an excess bladder cancer risk include painters, machinists, aluminium processing, other metal workers, workers in the textile industry, leather workers and shoemakers, printers, hairdressers and transport workers.

While there is no mention of PAHs risk in the text of the 10 ‘ground contamination risk assessment’ reports for NLC they do appear near the bottom and middle of this diagram, just below/in contact with, a ‘moderately permeable aquifer’ (underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock) from ‘Ground contamination detailed quantitative risk assessment report part 1’:

PAHs are also referred to 4 times in Ground contamination detailed quantitative risk assessment report part 2 sampling:

WSPE has reviewed the analytical results in the appendices and approximates actual sampling delivery as follows: – Soils: 57 samples submitted to laboratory, with 41 analysed for metals/inorganics, 36 for TPH, 41 for PAHs, and 3 for VOCs. (page 3)

Leachates: 17 soil samples analysed for leachable metals/inorganics and PAHs, 15 analysed for TPH. (page 3)

Groundwater: 10 samples all analysed for metals/inorganics, PAHs, and TPH. (page 3)

However, the report’s findings do not mention PAHs again and conclude:

In assessing risks to human health, URS considered that the majority of the soil exceedances occurred at depths greater than 1m in depth and were thus too deep to allow direct contact/ingestion and not a risk for the final development. For those exceedances noted within 1m of surface (arsenic, lead, nickel, and benzo(a)pyrene), URS reported that these were marginal exceedances, and note that the screening values used (representing residential end-use) are most likely over-conservative for school use. URS reports that all exceedances of residential screening values are less than screening values representing a commercial/industrial end-use. Direct contact from groundwater is not expected due to recorded depths.

So, I’m reading this to mean they did find PAHs but that they were, in their opinion, too deep to matter even though they were just under moving water?

Note: Labour has been in control of North Lanarkshire council or its equivalent since time began.

Note: The contractor Balfour Beatty is not accused here of any corrupt practice but has been elsewhere:


12 thoughts on “Conservative-enabled Labour North Lanarkshire’s unconvincing denial of school cancer links

  1. Bugger le Panda July 6, 2019 / 6:38 am

    I doubt the North Lanarkshire could, within its medical physical boundaries, be able to do the necessary tests to make such a definitive statement.

    Maybe it was no provable link to….

    Could that conclusion have been massaged for someone’s clarity ?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Legerwood July 6, 2019 / 9:23 am

    Bladder cancer can take many years to develop so it is possible that all 4 cases already had the disease albeit not at an overtly detectable stage before they came to the school. There are also risk factors for bladder cancer other than exposure to heavy metals. See

    Therefore any investigation into this aspect of the case would have to look very closely and extensively into the background of the 4 people and the stage of their cancer at diagnosis before making a definitive causal connection between the cancer and school location.

    The report also states that the chemicals are at a depth of 1 metre so what was the likelihood of them being disturbed and ending up on the surface during the construction phase.

    Lots of questions and not much indication behind the anodyne comments from officialdom that these questions have been asked and properly investigated to date.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Clydebuilt July 7, 2019 / 9:58 am

    Some quick thoughts . . . . “”Soil exceedences occured at depths greater than 1m and were therefore too deep to allow direct contact or ingestion”

    During construction work surely foundation work on the building would be several metres in depth and thats before any slope of site is taken into consideration. Unless special measures were taken to remove excavated soil from site then likely that some or all of this soil would be redistributed around the site to be grassed or tarmaced over.

    High incidence of bowel cancers amongst foundry workers . . . . I’m assuming this was due to breathing contaminated air similarily for machinists in enginerring. Hard to see same contact for teachers at the site unless breathing in contaminated dust from exposed soil with nothing to prevent dry soil being blown around by wind .

    Blue tap water. Guessing caused by problem with pipework. Nothing to do with toxins at site. However seen a blue / greeny growth / crystals on old copper pipework that is suffering corrosion caused by contact with dis similar metals or earthing problems. Never seen blue water from such pipes.
    As school is new would pipewirk not be plastic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clydebuilt July 7, 2019 / 10:01 am

      How long does it take for the teachers bowel cancers to develop and how long have they worked on site?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Legerwood July 7, 2019 / 5:08 pm

        Clyde built,
        I gave a link to Cancer Research UK’s site in my post above. More than just exposure to heavy metals can cause bladder cancer. I have seen a figure of 25 years, or up to 25 years, for bladder cancer to develop but there is likely to be quite a variation within that time frame. Age is also a factor. It is more common in older people. .

        Without knowing more details about the individuals and their medical histories, which are of course confidential, then difficult to refute the conclusion arrived at by the investigators who did presumably have access to these people and their medical histories.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jim McDonald. July 7, 2019 / 3:44 pm

    I don’t trust builders as far as I could throw them and I worry about the tendency they have to work as closely as possible to the legal limits as possible – if in fact they don’t exceed them. Also, the points made about soil disturbance and topography are well made. And I now never underestimate the capacity of our elected representatives to circle the wagons and cover their backsides. So I have a distinct lack of trust in the reassurances of the council, et al.

    However there are some questions that should be asked. Did the 4 teachers with badder cancer (not bowel) have any other commonalities? Did they work together in their previous school? Has anyone looked at the chemical environment of their previous workplaces?

    Also, have their domestic environments been examined? As part of my job I had to investigate after a colleague presented with symptoms of heavy metal poisoning. I had dust and water samples from his workplace analysed and could find no heavy metals in them. He was very health conscious – eating organic foods. He also grew many of his own vegetables. Problem was that he lived on the site of the former Royal Ordnance Factory and was growing on contaminated land. It was not a work related illness. He was poisoning himself.

    Additionally, sometimes cancer clusters occur for no reason. It’s not always clear what causes bladder cancer, and some people with bladder cancer have no obvious risk factors. Sometimes shit just happens, but we need to find reasons, if only to reassure ourselves that we have done all we can to prevent recurrence and to protect ourselves and our families.

    I am not disputing the possibility of the bladder cancers being linked to the new school. I understand that bladder cancer can sometimes be diagnosed very early so it is possible that there may be a link – if I worked at that school I would definitely be asking my doctor if I could be screened for bladder cancer. All I am saying is that the presence of blue water and a cancer cluster in the same school does not necessarily prove causality. It is a fairly strong indicator of a potential problem, though.

    The council need to stop being defensive, ditch any preconceptions and bring in a team of occupational hygienists and analysts to fully investigate this over the summer. That would include an audit of the governance of the project at all levels, including safety and environmental sign offs. And, if necessary, make arrangements to allow the school to remain empty until it is cleared or remediated. Maybe John Swinney should take a leaf out of the playbook Jean Freeman is using for the new Edinburgh kids hospital.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gavin C Barrie July 8, 2019 / 9:10 pm

    @ Jim McDonald: Odd that the existing kids hospital – ancient ventilation technology(?) and equipment can remain operational yet the new one doesn’t meet standards.

    Contractors will seek every means to cuts costs and construction time. it is the role of the client, in this case Nth Lanarks Council to engage a Clerk of Works, or Building Inspector to rigorously ensure that the project is built to standard. A difficult role to fulfil – that needs the full backing of the client – to satisfy the client, wanting handover of the facility, and the contractor seeking to maximise profit.

    Craig Murray’s article on Bought Politicians is worth a read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clydebuilt July 9, 2019 / 9:33 am

      Ventilation systems have to be designed then constructed. If the new system isn’t functioning as required, that can be due to an error in design, construction or component not functioning to specification. A construction error would include not following the designed specification.


    • Alasdair MacdonaldAlasdair Macdonald July 9, 2019 / 7:43 pm

      With squeezes on Council budgets going back many years, there have been significant numbers of voluntary redundancies and, these coupled with normal retirements and job changes have resulted in many experienced staff being lost to the Councils and with them went a fair amount of institutional memory. Many Councils and, indeed, Scottish Government departments no longer have the kind of building control expertise which they used to have. There are insufficient remaining staff to carry out inspections with the intensity and frequency required. Often, Councils have to go to external consultants for specialist advice. Some of these consultants were former Council officers who set up private advisory businesses and, so had intimate knowledge of procedures. But, as years passed even they are much reduced in number. So, often Councils have to rely on companies who, themselves, are also hired by contractors.


  6. Gavin C Barrie July 9, 2019 / 6:10 pm

    it’s been a long long time since I was involved in air-conditioning design. I would be inclined to question airflow rates/distribution and filtration. The system is pressurised so an installation leak could impair supply flowrates but not air supply quality.


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