New tests at 'poison' nursery

A second investigation is being launched into a nursery at the centre of a contamination scare which allegedly left staff with blisters, blue mouths and severe stomach pains.

The North Woolwich Children's Centre, near London City Airport, closed last December after staff went down with a mystery illness. The eight nursery workers are still off sick and the building remains empty.

An investigation by Newham council failed to isolate any toxic material on the premises. But reports of similar symptoms by nearby residents has prompted a new investigation by the London Hazard Centre, a health and safety unit funded by local authorities.

Nursery staff believe toxic material may have been disturbed during the site's development. Soon after they began working at the centre in August last year they started to get severe headaches, felt they had flu and suffered constant tiredness, severe stomach pains and diarrhoea.

In severe cases, clumps of hair fell out, itchy blisters appeared on the skin and scalp. Parts of the inside of the mouth turned blue.

Although most of the symptoms have abated since they stopped work, staff still complain of diarrhoea, tiredness and violent headaches. Some of the black workers have developed white freckles and say their skin turned paler. The centre manager, Marissa Bagalo, lost clumps of hair and although most has grown back, there are visible thin patches.

She said: 'I started there on 8 August. The next morning I woke up with pains in my chest and I got skin irritations. When the heating went on the symptoms escalated. Lumps would appear under your skin and your blood would feel like you were boiling. Mouth ulcers would appear by mid week, although they would clear up at the weekend.'

Tests by Newham council have revealed high levels of white spirit in the nursery, which was purpose built with a pounds 800,000 grant from the London Docklands Development Corporation.

The council says any other substances found on the site are well within World Health Organisation limits, although a new ventilation system has been installed and further tests are being made. The council says there is no history of an industrial site in the area and no evidence of soil problems.

It also says none of the children who attended the nursery during the two-week period in December when it was open suffered symptoms.

Hugh MacGrillen, advice worker at the London Hazard Centre, blames lead in the land. 'The area has been industrialised for 180 years. We figure all kinds of things have been dumped there over the years.

'There is no doubt whatsoever they were ill . . . the symptoms they described were similar to those related to heavy metal poisoning. White spirit might have caused nausea or dizziness but it wouldn't have caused the other things.'

He supports claims by the workers' union, Unison, that the whole thing has been mismanaged by Newham council. 'If they had gone in and done a proper survey at the outset it would have sorted things out.'

It has emerged that some people living near by have similar symptoms. Mick Preston, who lives next door to the centre, complained of feeling constantly tired, of losing hairs on his legs and head, and having epileptic fits for the first time.

It was only after he attended a meeting held by social services director Deborah Cameron that he discovered nursery staff had similar symptoms. 'I had no reason to associate anything with the nursery. I had a funny taste in my mouth and a dry cough, dizzy spells and fits.'

Phil Thompson, chair of Newham Unison, agrees the council should have acted more quickly. 'They should not gamble with staff and children's lives. This was very much a high-profile project which had taken two or three years to get off the ground. The last thing they wanted was to admit something was wrong.'

The LDDC is putting pressure on the council to reopen the nursery - or start paying back some of the grant.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss