Glasgow & West Scotland

Copper fear prompts Coatbridge school water pipe change

campus building
Image caption The Townhead Road campus in Coatbridge was completed in 2012

A council has denied being slow to act after high levels of copper were found in drinking water at two schools.

It follows reports of blue and cloudy water at a campus shared by Buchanan High and St Ambrose High in Coatbridge, dating back more than a year.

Tests carried out in 2018 later revealed copper levels were up to three times higher than recommended.

North Lanarkshire Council said it was investigating the source of the contamination.

It said it was in the process of replacing 300m of copper piping at the campus, with work due to be completed by the end of February.

Flushed weekly

The school complex, which also houses a community centre, was constructed on Townhead Road on a former landfill site in 2012.

A water investigation team visited the campus in March 2018 and took samples of water from a medical room, snack area and home economics and science classrooms after concerns were voiced by staff and pupils.

That resulted in a recommendation that the campus' pipes be flushed weekly to reduce the risk of copper build-up in the system.

Image caption Copper levels were tested at Buchanan High in March 2018

Testers also recommended that any metal piping at the schools was replaced.

Follow-up tests carried out on the 23 November found copper levels in the water were again above the recommended health levels - which were set to guard against the risk of gastric irritation for those consuming the water.

Coatbridge and Chryston SNP MSP Fulton MacGregor criticised the Labour-led local authority for not replacing the pipe work sooner.

'All necessary precautions'

He said: "It was recommended almost a year ago that the corroded pipes needed replaced, but nothing was done about it for a further eight months."

He added: "Why wasn't the situation made clear to parents and staff who had already expressed their concerns? And why were warnings over safety ignored for so long?

"Bottled water was only provided to the schools from November 2018, so were any staff or pupils put at risk in the meantime?"

Image caption The campus houses Buchanan High and St Ambrose High in Coatbridge

Mr McGregor said the council needed to be "completely transparent about what steps were taken and when, and make clear that all necessary precautions were put in place to ensure safety of teachers and pupils."

A spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council denied there was any delay in their response and that the system had been flushed twice a day to help prevent a build-up of copper solution in the taps.

He told the BBC: "When we received this report, all options were considered to address the issue, including the replacement of copper piping.

"Given this is a significant job as the campus has in excess of 300m of copper piping, further investigation was required to establish the scale of the problem, including finding the source.

"Corrective action was taken immediately by regularly flushing the system, which is in line with the recommendations by the Drinking Water Quality Regulator."

He added: "We have been replacing all the copper pipework with plastic pipes in all three buildings of the campus.

"This work is 95% complete and has been carried out over the weekends and holidays and is due to be finished this month."

The council said that samples had since been taken from all areas where pipes were replaced and that the copper build-up had now been addressed.