Published: 06/06/2018 08:20 - Updated: 05/06/2018 15:00

Report on Wick High health issues 'buried' by council claim

Written byGordon Calder

A REPORT looking at the possible causes of health issues among teachers at the new Wick High School appears to have been “buried” by Highland Council, it has been claimed.

Richard Otley, chairman of the school’s parent council, is concerned the local authority has not acted to improve the air quality at the building six months after a report was carried out by Iqarus Environmental Services.

The Fife-based company was commissioned by the school to undertake a survey after teachers reported various problems from what were described as “potential airborne pollutants”.

The report stated: “One of the deputy rectors displayed symptoms akin to an allergic reaction, with puffed skin and a rash. Discussions with various teachers within the school gave an idea of the similar symptoms experienced throughout the staff (which were also felt by a consultant while on site) ranging from itchy eyes to a persistent cough that appears to go away at weekends.”

The survey revealed that humidity levels are either below or just at the lower end of the range considered acceptable.

It added: “At humidity levels this low, the air begins to draw moisture from people, potentially explaining the recurring dry throats and coughs. This low humidity may also be responsible for the increased frequency of colds that was reported by some of the teaching staff. Low humidity can also impact the comfort and concentration levels of people spending prolonged periods in the building.”

The report found there was “little to no air movement” in any of the classrooms investigated.

“Without regular and sufficient air movement, the dilution and removal of airborne pollutants such as carbon dioxide and dust are severely reduced. In almost every classroom there are either boxed-in radiators or heating vents in the walls.

“One concern noted as a potential source of the observed symptoms was the presence of formaldehyde within the school with a source being the widespread use of medium density fibreboard (MDF). Most of the cupboards and radiator boxes were made out of this [material]. Usually the edges of MDF are sealed when cut to size to prevent fibre release but in the case of Wick High School the edges of the openings cut into the board to place the vents were not sealed in six of the seven classrooms observed.”

Wick High has a built-in air conditioning system throughout most parts of the school but for the duration of the survey was not working.

“The use of a functioning air conditioning system would help to improve the air quality, at least in the parts of the building where it is installed, but could equally increase the circulation of pollutants within the vents.

“From the findings of this survey it is clear environmental conditions within the school are not what would be expected, particularly from a new build.”

Five recommendations are made in the report, including a deep clean to bring the building up to “acceptable standards as this was never carried out before moving in”.

That would deal with the allergens associated with the dust and the issue with formaldehyde vapour. All rough and unsealed edges of MDF should be sealed and a repeat inspection undertaken once the work has been completed.”

Mr Otley is concerned the problems have not been addressed and said Highland Council has to provide a safe environment for staff and pupils.

He raised the issue at last night’s meeting of the Wick Stakeholder Group and called on the local authority to implement the recommendations in full.

“Parents have a right to the contents of this report but it was not released and had to be requested. It was carried out between December 6 and 7 last year but Highland Council seems to have buried it and done nothing about it,” Mr Otley said.

No-one from Highland Council was available for comment by time the Courier to press.

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