Bluewater at school causes death of Scot Teacher

Bluewater at school causes death of Scot Teacher
Jeana Watt

A teacher who claimed that her school’s blue water and harmful chemicals were to blame for her developing brain cancer passed away. At the Skills Academy in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, which was constructed on an existing industrial waste site, Jeana Watt taught arithmetic.

The 48-year-old mother of three was given 18 months to live in June 2021 after receiving a diagnosis of glioblastoma, a rapidly growing brain tumour, but she passed suddenly in December, according to her husband. The school is located on the same site as Buchanan and St. Ambrose high schools, where blue water was once found coming from the taps and teachers and students said they got sick.

The complex was reopened to workers and students in August of that year after an independent study, which was requested by the Scottish Government in 2019, found no connection to illness. Yet according to Jeana, the three years she spent working at the Skills Academy exposed her to chemicals in the water she drank and used to wash her hands, as well as contamination of the ground.

Last August, Jeana called for a second independent investigation in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Mail. Stephen, her husband, has now promised to continue her struggle and calls for a second independent investigation to evaluate the campus’s safety.

Stephen, 44, from Newarthill near Motherwell, said: “Jeana died never having changed her mind that the water could have triggered the growth of her cancer. She wanted another completely independent review into the school’s grounds and water to be carried out.

“She died before she ever saw that happen but now she’s gone I still back that completely and want this to be done for the safety of the school pupils and staff. Jeana used to say she didn’t believe in coincidences and in that tiny building where she worked, she along with two others were diagnosed with different cancer within two years. Two of them are now dead.

“In the school on the main campus, there were three or four teachers diansgoed with a rare form of cancer that only two per cent of the population gets and they all worked in the same corridor. There are still questions that need to be answered. They say it’s safe, so prove it with another independent investigation.

“There needs to be more testing done over a longer period of time. If I’m wrong then I’m fine with that. It just means all we’ve done is prove beyond a doubt that the building is safe because as it stands there are still doubts and questions.”

A CT scan in October showed that Jeana’s tumour had enlarged and was moving forward. Two months later, Jeana passed away at home in the company of her loved ones. Additionally, Stephen said that just weeks before Jeana passed away, the North Lanarkshire Council cancelled her employment contract while she was on sick leave fighting cancer.

Stephen said: “Jeana was everything to me and to our family. But to others who knew her she was inspiring and had unlimited energy and a real drive to do good in people’s lives. The CT scan showed that the tumour had advanced and was getting bigger. We brought her home and just under seven weeks later she was gone.

“She died at home surrounded by everyone she loved. The last thing I said to her was that I loved her and that she didn’t need to worry anymore. While Jeana was dying she was on sick pay from North Lanarkshire Council and then we received a letter to say she hadn’t been at work so they were dismissing her.

“It was an incredibly cold letter basically saying you’ve not been at work so we’re terminating your contract. There was nothing thanking her for all the hard work and effort she put into her job or taking into consideration what a fantastic and dedicated teacher she was. The very reason she was off sick was because she had cancer which she believed was caused by water at the school she worked at.”

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Throughout her sickness, Jeana worked, spending time at home at times. “We were heartbroken to hear of Jeana’s loss last year after a period of bad health, and our sympathies remain with her family,” a spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council said. She was considered as an amazing teacher who had a profound impact on the lives of many young people by her peers, with whom she maintained regular contact.

“The ill-health retirement process was explained to Jeana when she submitted her application and she specifically requested that the official process to terminate her employment was done in writing after she declined the offer to meet with the Depute Chief Executive to discuss her ill-health retirement application. A standard letter as outlined through the council’s Managing Attendance Policy was sent to her home at her request.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our deepest sympathies are with the Watt family for their loss. An independent review into the health and safety concerns at St Ambrose and Buchanan High Schools was carried out in summer 2019.

“It concluded that the school and site were safe and that there were no links between ill-health and the campus. The review made a number of recommendations, including the establishment of a Site Recovery Group involving all key stakeholders to support future confidence in the site.”

The campus was constructed on the location of a landfill that Gartsherrie Ironworks used from 1945 until 1972 to dispose of industrial waste, including lead and arsenic. Before the campus opened in 2012, precautions were taken to make the grounds secure, including putting in new top soil. The 2019 study noted a significant concentration of the prohibited chemical polychlorinated biphenyls on the school perimeter despite concluding that the location was safe.