A TRADE union is facing questions over the nature of legal advice they were given about the safety of a school affected by blue water.

The NASUWT trade union, which represents some teachers at Buchanan High School and St Ambrose High in Coatbridge, decided to take strike action over claims that water was causing staff to develop cancer and make children sick.

Read more: Blue water schools scare: How it unfolded 

Two other trade unions who represent staff at the North Lanarkshire school – the EIS and the SSTA – received the same information and reassurances from authorities that the site was safe and their members were satisfied there was no health concern.

Sources close to the NASUWT have told The Herald on Sunday that lawyers warned them several times the claims that one of their members had contracted bladder cancer because of blue water were questionable.

This was months before the Scottish Government was forced to commission an independent report into the site, teachers balloted for strike action or parents started keeping their children off school, it has been claimed.

Now Scottish Conservatives health spokesman Miles Briggs has written to the union calling for it to clarify what legal advice it was given and has demanded the information be made public.

In a letter sent on Friday, Briggs stated: “I would like to enquire about any legal advice you may have received during the period when concerns were being expressed, and what advice may have been provided to your organisation that there was no basis or evidence of any serious illness linked to the schools or campus.”

The MSP for Lothian has also questioned why the trade union decided to take strike action, which forced the school to close a week early, when two other unions with members at the school did not.

Briggs wrote: “This resulted in the school pupils being significantly impacted.

“In the interest of public transparency I would like to enquire if this information will be made public.”

Blue water had been seen running from the school's taps last year, which the council found to be caused by corrosion of copper piping inside the school.

Despite replacing 1800 metres of copper with plastic pipes, and confirmation that the copper levels in the water were not a health concern, and have no link to cancer, some staff and parents said the site's former incarnation as landfill was making people ill.

The NASUWT members at Buchanan High walked out on June 20 over their concerns, forcing the school, which caters to pupils with additional needs, to close early for summer.

Parents and pupils joined the picket line, holding signs calling for the council to "test our kids" and stating "toxic landfill" was causing health problems.

Read more: Blue water schools panic 'caused by mistrust of authority' despite evidence

The Government instructed a review, which found the site to be safe and that the links to cancer and illness were unfounded.

Despite this, the union continued its strike on the first day of the school term, August 12.

The NASWUT has said it "refutes" the claims that it was told the site was safe and had no links to its member's cancer, and William Barrie, one of the retired teachers trying to sue the council for his cancer, refused to discuss what lawyers had told him regarding his case.

When asked whether he was advised there was no link between his diagnosis and the blue water by legal experts, Mr Barrie said he would not “go saying things that could create problems in the future”.

It is understood Thompsons solicitors, representing Mr Barrie, has twice asked sheriffs for extra time to prepare the case.

Mr Barrie acknowledged that he had not been a member of the NASUWT when he first suspected his cancer was linked to the school's water problem, but was told he could obtain free legal advice if he joined the union.

The Herald on Sunday was also told on three separate occasions that the NASUWT, which has a small presence in Scotland compared with south of the Border, had taken the unprecedented step of paying full wages to teachers who went on strike.

The union's own policy states: "The NASUWT does not reimburse members for lost pay for any strike action that involves all members ... across any nation/administration in which the Union organises."

The NASUWT did not respond when asked to confirm the strike pay claims.

Trade union Unison has previously offered £15 a day to members who are on strike, while the EIS union pays striking members 50% of their earnings for strikes lasting more than one day.

Seamus Searson, the General Secretary of the SSTA union, said he would have handled the issue differently.

He said: "If I believed that one of my members was severely impacted health-wise my first port of call would be to raise it with the authority and with all the other unions. We would have gone as a joint union to say we’ve got real concerns.

"If I was really worried about the health of children in the school, I would have got collective response from all the unions.

"That’s what I would have expected, as health and safety for all members rather than just a few is more important.

"There is always a worry when you start something like this that you could actually damage the whole reputation of the school, and the parents walk away from the school with their children and you’ve caused unnecessary stress.

"Unless you’ve got evidence to the contrary, you can’t put the whole school in jeopardy.

"We were reassured by the authority, we met with them a number of times. That hasn’t changed. We have been in conversation with them during the summer and before the schools went back.

"As far as we’re concerned, there are no health concerns with the school.

"The report was completed, and having read it there are one or two things to be dealt with but there is no serious health risk to the people in the school. In some ways, we’re now moving on to the next business."

North Lanarkshire council said advice was given to staff, unions, pupils, parents and carers from October 2018, with written advice being handed out in November, January, February and May explaining the school was safe and the piping was being replaced. A spokeswoman said this was along with “public access to a dedicated web page with facts and up-to-date information and the provision of a factual information sheet in May and June 2019”.

On the basis for any legal action, the authority said: “The council has consistently said that the schools and the site are safe and we are pleased that the independent review agreed with this. However, we are unable to comment on ongoing legal action.”

Ms Chris Keates, General Secretary (Acting) of the NASUWT said: “The NASUWT refutes the claims made.”

A spokesman from Thompsons solicitors was unable to comment.