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Grenfell: and beyond!

By Mike Cunningham On December 7th, 2017

I have written, several times, in what can safely be described as scathing terms, of the actuality and aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Whether you agree with me or not, is perhaps beside the point. At least seventy-nine people died, and someone should be held accountable; whether anything written about the facts should be in sarcastic terms is up to the writer. If you have a problem; deal with it. I won’t change, and probably the average ATW reader will not change either.

We should now turn to the Sky News Grenfell bombshell which, strangely enough, was met with almost complete silence and lack of publicity;

126 mentions of “cost” and 119 of “saving”, but nothing about fire safety.

I would repeat those sad statistics:-   Cost = 126, savings = 119 times; Fire Safety= 0

And some went further; claiming that elements of the plastics industry were not only helping to write the rules that require more insulation to be fitted to buildings, but were also trying to silence people who questioned whether plastic insulation was safe.

Time after time we were told the plastic insulation industry was highly litigious, that speaking out about its fire safety was impossible, and that while the story should be told, no-one would go on camera. Eventually we found a former government scientist who agreed to talk, on condition of anonymity, about the pressures he faced. He said threats to sue him had made him unwell.

“If you’ve got no [legal] insurance you lose your house,” he said. “It was a worrying time and they were quite famous for it – people knew this was the way they reacted.” He says he doesn’t think the work he did was influenced by the threats, but they had an effect: “I think perhaps more than anything else other people were silenced – by saying ‘Oh, you’d better not say anything about that, look what happened to him,’” he told us.

In 2013 an insurance firm set fire to plastic insulation panels to demonstrate that they burned more fiercely in real life than they did in official tests and posted the video on YouTube. It might explain, they suggested, why hundreds of millions of pounds of fire damage had been caused in a spate of factory fires. They were immediately threatened with legal action and had to remove all references that could have identified the manufacturer.

And the week after the Grenfell Tower fire, six European plastic industry lobby groups complained in a letter to the respected publishers of a peer-reviewed paper on the dangers of toxic smoke from burning plastic insulation written by chemistry and fire safety expert Professor Anna Stec at the University of Central Lancashire. “We request that the article is withdrawn,” it said. “The consequences […] are enormous and could well lead to significant consequential losses.” It ended: “We feel you should consider this very seriously.”

This link gives the Terms of Reference for the actual Inquiry. Perhaps we should be enquiring ourselves as to why there is absolutely no reference made to the alarming and possibly even illegal pressures placed upon scientists and indeed of universities to withdraw, censor, or modify anything written which might be deleterious to the Plastic Insulation Industry? Perhaps we should also be asking why Celotex itself is not mentioned within those same Terms of Reference; seeing as it was so keen to join the DECC Committee on Insulation for homes; as their spokesman Rob Warren was quoted as stating:- Warren had told them regulatory change was the “greatest driver” of plastic insulation sales. Without new regulations he was reported as saying: “You cannot give insulation away and the public are not really interested.”

The changes in the approach to the problems of defeating the problems associated with high-rise buildings which are badly insulated, from individual flats being insulated with Rockwool on the inside to whole buildings being wrapped in that same Rockwool was taken up with enthusiasm, especially as it was seen as Local and National Government pushing through something which was both giving added insulation to the whole building, and at the same time being perfectly safe, because Rockwool does not burn, hold combustion or catch fire. It may char; but will not burn.

I reckon the DECC people will have to answer one very simple question:- How did a sensible insulation idea get turned around into a policy of wrapping whole high-rises in flammable, dangerous and, as it turned out; Lethal Plastic Wrapping?


8 Responses to “Grenfell: and beyond!”

  1. As said, this cladding should have been explicitly banned, as it was explicitly banned in the US and in Germany, but not Britain.

    I was not aware that lobbying by a litigious industry group, who apparently took advantage of a British legal system that discourages robust comment, had played a role in the continued use of deathtrap cladding in residential towers.

    Good post Mike, an eye opener to us foreigners.

  2. A commendable post Mike.

  3. Yes a good and thoughtful post. Very frustrating at the injustice at protectionism it exposes.

  4. For what it’s worth, as far as I am aware, that type of cladding is illegal in buildings the size of Grenfell tower. Any building over 18m high must use flame retardant cladding. So it was already illegal. What needs to be ascertained is how illegal building materials where used and how the local authorities let it be used.

  5. Good and Informative post.

  6. Seamus

    Was the banning of the material explicit, was it banned by name?

    And how rigorous is building inspection in London? In NYC, building inspectors would immediately shut down a project where such material was being installed in a residential building.

    I believe that in London there was a significant amount of self certification by contractors that in retrospect sounds like a massive error in procedure.

  7. Not explicit (ie it doesn’t list which materials are acceptable and which aren’t). Buildings with a height of more than 18 metres have a different industry standard than buildings below them. And flame-retardant cladding is the standard required for buildings above 18 metres.

  8. That kind of regulation is no good.

    Really bad material like that should be banned by name. I don’t even know why you’d allow it to be used even in a one story shed.

    And how did you guys not tell us this

    A factory owned by the maker of Grenfell Tower’s cladding panels has caught fire.

    Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service was called to the production plant of Arconic in Exeter just before 1.30am on Saturday.

    Fire crews rushed to the factory on Kestral Way following reports of a fire in the casting plant at its foundry section.

    The fire service said: “Due to the potential serious nature of this incident and knowledge of the type of building involved, fire control made the decision to redirect fire appliances from other lower priority incidents in the area to ensure fire service resources were in attendance as soon as possible.”

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