Workers at the chemical plant responsible for polluting a large area of the south of Glasgow were known as ‘White’s whistlers’, due to the damage caused to their nasal packages by cancer-causing chromium, relatives have claimed.

Men who worked for the company, J&J White’s of Rutherglen, came home clouded in dust, many bearing ‘chrome holes’ – burns in the skin, and with septums ruined by chemicals they had inhaled.

Alison Tait’s father worked there in the early 1940s, and says the workers and their families all knew it was damaging their health. “My dad used it as a party trick. His septum was ruined and so his nose made a whistling noise,” she recalls. “My mother described how my father would come home covered in white dust and she would make him strip off in the back hall.”

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The family lived at Farme Cross, Rutherglen, but Alison’s father died aged 51 in 1966 when she was just nine – from lung cancer, which she now suspects may have been work-related.

“When I was older I heard my aunts talking of the number of male neighbours from Farme Cross, who had worked at White’s and died prematurely. These ordinary women pointed the finger at White’s even then but there was ‘no evidence’,” she says.

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Much later she attempted to get hold of her father’s medical records but discovered they had been lost or destroyed.

But now, with Polmadie Burn, near Oatlands in Glasgow having been screened off over pollution concerns, Alison is alarmed the authorities have not done more. “The playing fields at Eastfield were fenced off a while ago to restrict access as chromates have been identified in the soil. I thought the next thing they would say was ‘we’ll clean it up’ but they didn’t follow it up, “ she says.

“These were the swing park and the football pitches we had all been playing in as children .”

While the metal chromium, and most compounds containing it are not toxic, one form of the element, hexavalent chromium ( Chromium VI), is poisonous and carcinogenic. J&J Whites is known to have dumped tonnes of waste products from its chemical works in the Rutherglen and Polmadie area, much of it deposited in disused mine tunnels. However waste products, including Chromium VI, have contaminated more than 30 acres of land and leached into the Clyde, mainly via local waterways including Polmadie Burn which was closed to the public after it turned green last month.

Relatives of those affected and past and present residents of the Oatlands area have been shocked to learn that even though the harmful effects of Chromium were suspected as long ago as 1893, when socialist hero Keir Hardie described employees as “White slaves” a full clean up has never taken place.

The late father of Joe Robertson, Alison’s cousin, was another “White’s whistler” who could put a string up one nostril and pull it out through the other, his son recalls. Joe also remembers local children watching football from behind the goals at nearby Glencairn FC, standing on heaps of slag which also visibly contained chromium VI. “It was like a greenish yellow powder, mixed in with the cinders” he says. “They dumped it everywhere.They have known about it for years and years.”

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Herald reader William MacIntyre also remembers children playing amid the waste. “Shale from the same factory, was used to build football pitches in Rutherglen public park and at the corner of Dukes Road and Cambuslang Road. I and many of my friends who survive still have some of it in our knees,” he said. “As a boy I lived close to White’s chemical works and often with my pals anon the ‘rid lake’ at the side of the factory.. The lake was a fair size and it was very red.”

Regeneration agency Clyde Gateway owns 2.5 hectaresof a much larger contaminated site known as Shawfield Phase 2 - which extends to 29 hectares in total. Clyde Gateway has already remediated the 11 hectares Phase 1 site, and is putting in mitigation measures in the its part of the Phase 2 land. But the agency has said it cannot afford the cost of a full clean up of the contaminated land, leading to calls for the Scottish Government to step in.

The original company cannot be made to pay as it no longer exists. J&J Whites was merged with the Eaglescliffe Chemical Company to a firm in County Durham, in 1953 and Scottish workers were offered the chance to move or take redundancy. The Eaglescliffe factory has now been decommissioned but has left its own toxic legacy of Chromium VI pollution in the North East of England town.

Alison realises she may never know what caused her father’s death for sure. but the health hazards were taken for granted, she says. “In those days there were no records and people needed the work.

“Now it is being addressed as an environmental disaster but for some families it was the devastation of growing up without a husband, brother or father.”