NHS bosses built a Greenock healthcare unit on toxic land riddled with dangerous contaminants and operated it for decades, the Telegraph can reveal.

The site at the former Ravenscraig Hospital, now earmarked for large-scale social housing, was home to a facility which treated thousands of patients from the early 1990s until 2014.

Pollutants including arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium — which can cause cancer — are all present in the ground around the area of the now demolished Kirn/Gryffe building.

Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan yesterday described the revelation as 'deeply disturbing'.

He has now called for plans to build nearly 200 new homes on the contaminated site to be 'shelved'.

Mr Cowan said: "Questions have to be answered, not just for any new build, but because we need to ascertain if people's health has been jeopardised in the past."

An ex-member of staff at the former Ravenscraig campus told the Telegraph: "We had no idea of the toxins whatsoever."

The healthcare worker, speaking on condition of anonymity, added: "The environment we worked in was horrendous with faecal matter flowing over toilets, and ceilings falling in when it rained.

"There were occasions when brown-stained water with particles in it ran from taps, but none of us ever thought we were working in this amount of danger."

The Kirn/Gryffe unit — which was demolished around six months ago — was used to treat alcohol and drug dependent patients until 2011, when it became a short-stay psychiatric facility.

Housing provider Link Group Ltd bought the 83-acre site for £1 and is set to receive a £15.3m Scottish Government grant after councillors approved the company's plans for 198 homes in a knife-edge 5-4 vote in March.

The decision came after we revealed that chemical contamination at the site is more than eight times officially recognised acceptable levels.

An official report warns of 'multiple exceedances' of toxins in the poisoned ground and urges 'vigilance' in case of 'additional sources of gross contamination'.

Link say they are committed to a 'remediation strategy' at the site.

However, MSP Stuart McMillan has demanded 'utmost clarity' from the company as to what it is doing to clean it up and says he is awaiting a detailed response.

Mr McMillan said: "Attention has mostly been focused on whether the Ravenscraig Hospital site will be made safe for occupants of the housing, but understandably people are expressing concern for those who both worked as well as lived on the site prior to the hospital's closing.

"I have written to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde asking for information about the health impacts upon staff and patients who were based there."

He added:"I will continue to press for transparency so people can have confidence that appropriate remediation measures will take place at the approval of Inverclyde Council's contaminated land officer.

"I nor anyone else can change the actions of those involved in approving proposals to build on the site in the 1990s — including the lack of sampling and remediation measures taken — but I can, and am, asking questions of Link Housing and Inverclyde Council about the current proposals."

His SNP colleague Mr Cowan said: "These latest revelations are deeply disturbing.

"We aren't talking about a long forgotten era.

"Any building erected in the 1990s should have passed all health and safety scrutiny and if it did not, then why not?

"The worry is that the site has far more contamination than was originally believed.

"It may be that we need to completely reconsider what this land is suitable for, and at the very least any proposal to build on it should be shelved until all investigations have been completed."

The Telegraph told last November how the grounds have been polluted for nearly 150 years because they were twice used as industrial scale town dumps in the 1870s and 1880s for industries such as tanneries, bone yards and chemical works.

Health board bosses have reiterated a statement given previously that the site was deemed to be of 'moderate to low risk' but provided no details of the level of assessment carried out prior to building the Kirn/Gryffe unit.

A spokeswoman for NHS GGC said: "We have already provided you with full responses to previous enquiries including questions on the land at the former Ravenscraig site which those two buildings were part.

"Ravenscraig, like many historical sites, was found to have sources of potential contamination but a risk assessment found these to be of moderate to low risk.

"This was also backed up Inverclyde Council which concluded that it was 'not likely to present a significant risk to human health or the wider environment'."