THE revelation that highly toxic land earmarked for social housing in Greenock has been polluted for nearly 150 years has been described by the town's MP as 'very serious'.

Evidence has been uncovered of 19th century industrial scale dumping of dangerous substances on the sprawling 83-acre former Ravenscraig Hospital site.

Politicians are now ramping up pressure for answers over the level of the poisons — including cancer-causing chemicals — amid calls for caution regarding the development plan.

MP Ronnie Cowan said: "The news that the land has been contaminated for such a long period of time is very serious.

"Given previous health scares, and suggested links to illnesses, we need to ensure that whatever happens to the land takes into consideration health and safety first and foremost."

Sewage was also a major issue at the site during the Victorian era, with the governor of the Smithston poor house at Ravenscraig recording in 1886 that the land was 'rapidly becoming overdosed'.

An outbreak of a skin disease — mostly among children — was so prevalent that an entire wing of the hospital had to be used to treat patients, and medics at the time were at a loss to explain it.

Livestock in the Kip Valley were struck by a 'deadly disease' in 1887 as a stream running through a grazing area was fed by ground waters from the Ravenscraig/Smithston land.

MSP Stuart McMillan said: "I am very concerned to learn of this information.

"It strikes me that there is evidence to suggest that this site has been contaminated for over a century.

"We need to know the levels of contamination over this period.

"As I have previously stated, much more work must be done to test this land with regards to its suitability for future development.

"Nothing should be built here until we can 100 per cent guarantee the safety of not only the people who would live there in the future, but the men and women who would be developing the site."

Edinburgh-based social housing provider Link Group Ltd — which is affiliated to Inverclyde's Larkfield Housing Association — bought the entire site for £1 in a back-to-back deal involving Ravenscraig's former owner, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and the Scottish Government.

Link — which has refused to answer questions regarding the contamination — stands to receive around £14m in grants if the proposed social housing development is approved by councillors.

Campaigners opposed to the controversial project have called on Inverclyde Council to remove the Ravenscraig site from the local development plan (LDP) which concludes that the land is suitable for housing.

An environmental report published last year highlights 'multiple exceedances' of a range of dangerous substances and urges 'vigilance' in case of 'additional sources of gross contamination'.

MSP Mr McMillan said: "I will continue to press the health board for information and answers regarding who knew what and when about the levels of contamination on this site."

The health board stated on record in September that there is no historical or ongoing danger at the site.

Inverclyde Council says that any objections raised during the consultation process on the proposed Local Development Plan will be submitted to Scottish Government ministers for consideration.

A spokesman added: "They will then issue a report to the council with recommended changes to the proposed plan."