PARENTS are boycotting a Lothian primary school over fears of an E.coli outbreak after part of the playground was flooded with contaminated water.
Pupils returning to Lawfield Primary in Mayfield after the October break yesterday were told to take their shoes off before entering the building and urged to wash their hands with antibacterial gel.
Parents claimed they were told by staff that the water in the playground may be contaminated with E.coli, prompting dozens of them to remove their children from the school and warning that they would not return until they were assured there were no risks to their children’s health.
Initial tests carried out by Midlothian Council have revealed the presence of a “wide range of bacteria”
But they said while further tests were being carried out on the “contaminated” water – excess surface water run off from neighbouring fields – the school would remain open. Part of the playground has been cordoned off while health officials try to establish exactly what strains of bacteria are present.
Mark Wilkinson, 38, who lives in Mayfield, has two sons at the school and is well aware of the dangers of E.coli after his wife contracted the bacteria while being treated for kidney stones at a city hospital.
The father-of-three, who decided to remove his sons from the school shortly after 11am, said: “They’re not going back until I know for a fact that there’s no E.coli. My wife nearly died of E.coli a couple of years ago so I know how dangerous it can be and how easy it is to catch it. It’s a silent killer.
“There is water running into the playground off a farmer’s field, which the school believes may be contaminated with E.coli. If the council is testing the water, why is the school still open?”
Another father who has a daughter at the school’s nursery and a daughter in primary 7 said parents received a text message at around 8.30am yesterday asking them to ensure that their children brought a change of footwear to school, but many pupils had already left for school before the message was received.
The Mayfield resident, who didn’t want to be named, said: “I took the girls to school and a nursery teacher said there had been an outbreak of E.coli in the playground. I don’t know why the council allowed it to open. I was shocked.
“When I went to pick my daughter up from nursery at 11.45am, about 30 parents were there taking their kids out of school and some of them had two or three kids. I think they had looked up E.coli and its symptoms and a bit of panic set in. There were an awful lot of upset people saying they weren’t bringing their children back until it was gone.
“I decided to take my oldest daughter out of school, too. I won’t send them back until the council gives the all-clear.”
Midlothian’s cabinet member for education, Councillor Lisa Beattie, said the risk to children and staff was “low”, but that the council did not want to take “any chances”.
She said: “We’ve put barriers up to cordon off a games area and also grass verges, just to be safe. Extra hygiene measures are also in place, such as rigorous hand washing and children have been asked to bring in indoor shoes. The school was shut to pupils last week so there’s no suggestion any children were playing in that part of the playground.”
Residents on Lawfield Road, including Margaret Roy, 68, and Ena Ross, 80, left, have been fighting to prevent flood water from the school ruining their homes after suffering a spate of floods in recent years.
Mrs Roy said: “The road outside my house ends up like a river when there’s heavy rain.”
Hearing the words “E.coli” causes alarm, but the name covers a big family of microbes and only a few are harmful. In fact, we all carry E.coli in our intestines, as do all warm-blooded animals.
The nasty E.coli nearly always is the kind called 0157. It causes gastroenteritis, which can be very unpleasant, but its real danger comes from the complications that a minority of patients develop. The commonest one is kidney failure. Sometimes the brain and the heart are affected as well. Children aged five and less and the elderly are most at risk.
The bug is more common in Scotland than anywhere else, but even here it is rare, with just over 200 cases every year. Exposure to farm animals and contamination of water supplies are important. Food outbreaks occur as well.
It sounds as though the contamination of the Lawfield Primary grounds has been caused by water containing harmless E.coli varieties. Almost certainly the risks are no greater than walking over a field where cattle or sheep have been grazing. Hand washing with soap and water works well and is by far the most important preventive measure.