Grenfell Tower inflammable cladding was never tested

Grenfell Tower cladding

By Richard Tyler in Britain:

Grenfell Tower combustible cladding was never tested

27 February 2018

The cladding used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was never subject to legally required fire safety tests.

According to the London Times, no record of independent testing of the cladding/insulation system has been found by three separate investigations into the Grenfell fire, including the government’s own expert panel on fire safety, the Metropolitan Police and the Hackitt Review into building regulations.

The potential risk extends to 299 other high-rise buildings in England that use similar cladding and insulation, including at least nine hospitals, 160 social housing blocks, 31 student residences, 13 public buildings and 95 private residential blocks.

The Times quotes a source with knowledge of the investigations saying, “The question has to be asked is how on earth did this material come to be installed on all of those buildings. Somehow or other, those materials have got on to 300 buildings without any tests being done or test results being produced.”

The refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, in which 71 lost their lives in the June 2017 fire, was signed off by building control managers at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council in 2016. However, if the report by the Times is correct, the cladding system never underwent mandatory safety testing.

An article in Fire Engineering magazine, published for nearly 140 years to “provide training, education and management information for fire and emergency services personnel worldwide”, concludes that a major factor in the spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower was the large size of the air-gap between the external cladding and the insulation layer attached to the building façade.

According to the author, Vyto Babrauskas, a fire safety science expert and US delegate to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) in the late 1990s and early 2000s—working to develop international standards for façade testing—the rapid spread of the fire at Grenfell was due to the “Schlyter effect.” This occurs in a fire when two panels on a building façade are separated by a small gap though which air can flow. As Babrauskas writes, “some materials may show limited burning and no significant flame spread when ignited as a single panel but yet show severe burning when a second panel is used.”

The effect was first demonstrated as long ago as 1939 by Ragnar Schylter, then head fire safety researcher at the Swedish National Testing and Research Institute. Babrauskas notes that although this effect is known to some fire scientists, it is “not generally well known in the fire safety area.”

“The best way to stop air flow is not have a gap in the first place. But if a gap has to exist for some moisture engineering purpose, then it is essential that it be less than 25mm or one inch and be fully fire stopped along the bottom and the sides by materials that cannot fail in the heat of the fire. If these precepts are not understood or are ignored, a bad situation can quickly be made much worse.”

Schylter had found that an air-gap of 25mm (1 inch) provided the optimum spacing to promote upward flame spread in a cavity. At 50mm (2 inches), the gap at Grenfell Tower was twice this width.

In the late 19th century, the first high-rise buildings had façades made of concrete, stone, brick, steel or glass. There was no need of a test for combustibility since these materials are inherently non-combustible. The situation changed 30 or 40 years ago with the introduction of “exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS).” These are generally cheaper and often employ combustible materials with only a thin protective aluminium skin, which can soon melt in a fire. Non-combustible insulation alternatives, such as mineral wool, are available, but cost more.

The existing fire testing regimes for such cladding systems are generally inadequate, according to Babrauskas. In the case of Grenfell Tower, he comments that “even a novice fire safety functionary should have questioned a 150-mm (six-inch) layer of plastic foam,” used as insulation, adding that although it ostensibly carries the “best flame spread rating in the UK testing methodology” the “UK system for flame spread classification does not do an acceptable job of classifying foam materials.”

Research carried out earlier by Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) into the Schylter effect indicated that “the most minimal levels of combustibility would suffice to create a disaster when a cavity is created in a wall, especially one twice the width of the maximum 25-mm gap found acceptable by the NRC researchers.”

A tall façade using a combination of combustible materials, such as plastic and insulation foam, together with an air gap is, in Babrauskas’ view, “a design that trifles with the public safety.”

After the Grenfell Tower fire this is incontestable. For the sake of saving a few thousand pounds, an inherently unsafe form of cladding was used on a building without a proper fire warning or sprinkler system, and with inadequate escape routes.

Culpability extends from those responsible for proposing such cladding, to the local authority for signing off on its use, and the building contractors for fitting such dangerous materials. The lack of a rigorous testing regime, despite known contributing hazards such as the Schylter effect, points to a criminal conspiracy at the heart of what are supposedly called “building standards.” These exist primarily not for the protection of the public, but to enable the use of the lowest cost materials and hence the greatest profits for the construction giants and property speculators.


British Grenfell disaster petition gets many signatures

This video from London, England says about itself:

30 November 2017

#Grenfell bereaved families and survivors call on the Prime Minister to build trust and avoid the Inquiry becoming a whitewash.

By Lamiat Sabin in Britain:

Monday, February 26, 2018

Petition calling for a diverse Grenfell panel hits 150,000 signatures

A PETITION calling on PM Theresa May to build public trust in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry by appointing a diverse panel that would represent the bereaved North Kensington community topped 150,000 signatures today.

This means that it has passed the 100,000-signature milestone to be considered for debate by MPs in Parliament.

The petition demands that the inquiry is not led by a judge alone and that panel members must be appointed with “relevant background, expertise, experience, and a real understanding of the issues facing those affected.”

Lawyers for bereaved families must see all evidence from the start and be allowed to question witnesses at the hearings, it adds.

Organisers Adel Chaoui, Karim Mussilhy and Sandra Ruiz – whose family members were among the official count of 71 people who died in the tower block fire last June – said in a statement: “This week the public have shown they’ve not forgotten about Grenfell.

“Just as they supported us in the immediate aftermath of the fire, when local and national government response was lacking, they’ve backed us again – and demanded the voices of the survivors and bereaved are heard.”

Grime rapper Stormzy, who asked his fans and social media followers on Friday to sign the petition, tweeted “beautiful, legendary people. Job done” after the 100,000-signature milestone was reached.

The musician used his live performance at the Brit Awards last week to take aim at Ms May over the tragedy.

He rapped: “Yo Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?

“What, you thought we just forgot about Grenfell?

“You criminals and you’ve got the cheek to call us savages, you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages, you should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon welcomed a debate of the petition in Parliament over the need for a truly representative panel similar to the one involved in the inquiry into the racially motivated murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

He said: “To tackle the obvious current lack of trust, Theresa May should respond positively to this strong show of public support and use her powers under the Inquiries Act to deliver a broad-based inquiry panel.

“The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, which marked a watershed in uncovering institutional racism, had a similar type of panel to the one now demanded by Grenfell survivors and their bereaved families.

“There is no reason for the Conservative government to continue denying this request for a broad inquiry panel.”

British musician Stormzy attacks Theresa May on Grenfell disaster

This 21 February 2018 music video from Britain says about itself:

Stormzy at the Brit Awards: ‘Yo, Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?’

After winning two of the night’s biggest awards, the south London MC expressed dismay over the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster and castigated the Daily Mail. Stormzy delivered a verbal attack on Theresa May in a show-closing freestyle performance, asking the prime minister, ‘Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?’, adding that the government ‘just forgot about Grenfell, you criminals, and you got the cheek to call us savages, you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages, we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.’

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Stormzy was praised for his comments by several politicians, including Mr Corbyn, who said: “Congratulations, Stormzy, for winning your first Brit award and what a powerful performance #Grenfell.”

Kensington and Chelsea MP Emma Dent Coad also tweeted: “Thank you for speaking truth to power Stormzy.

“In Kensington we will never forget. We will never stop fighting for justice. No justice, no peace.”

Tottenham MP David Lammy took to Twitter to show his support, adding: “Respect Stormzy for speaking truth to power.”

The grime star spoke out about Grenfell Tower during a set at Glastonbury Festival, and denounced Ms May as a “paigon” – slang for a liar – during the GQ awards last year.

Theresa May on the ropes after Stormzy challenge over Grenfell victims: here.

Three Grenfell Billboards Outside Parliament, London

The Grenfell billboards near Parliament, photo credit Justice 4 Grenfell

By Sam Wolfson in London, England, Feb 15 2018, 5:32pm:

Grenfell Campaigners Park Three Billboards Outside Parliament

They read: “71 DEAD“, “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”, “HOW COME?”

Eight months after a fire tore through Grenfell Tower, killing at least 71 people, campaigners have parked three billboards calling for justice outside the Houses of Parliament.

In a nod to Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, each of the three signs makes up a part of the campaigners’ message: “71 DEAD”, “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”, “HOW COME?”

Speaking to VICE, Yvette Williams, an organiser from campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell, said, “The reaction has been incredible, we’ve driven everywhere. People have been so supportive, which is exactly what we want – to keep Grenfell in people’s minds.”

Williams said that members of the campaign group were fans of the film and its message about demanding justice from authorities. They worked with an advertising agency to create the billboards, which have been driven around all day from the tower in west London up to Parliament. When VICE spoke to Williams, she was in the cab of one of the vans, driving through Hyde Park.

Williams says the group’s biggest fear is that people will forget about Grenfell before justice has been served: “We were told that even as the public inquiry is ongoing, there was going to be an interim report by Easter. Now that’s not happening. We want the truth. We want prosecutions. People up and down the country need to feel safe in their homes. None of that is happening. We think they’re playing with time, hoping that the story will be downplayed.”

Williams says they have a number of demands, chief among them the prosecution of those responsible, housing for those made homeless and the removal of dangerous cladding from other buildings. “We need the state of social housing to be part of the public inquiry – otherwise the same thing is just going to happen again. Change only comes from action.”

The Justice4Grenfell group was formed by survivors of the tragedy and members of the local community, with the goal of holding “all responsible authorities and individuals to account”.

Today, they posted some stark facts about government inaction since the fire on their website: “Eight months on from the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower, the issue is being ignored. 71 people died in the Grenfell Tower. And still no arrests. And still 297 flammable towers. And still hundreds of survivors are homeless. And still they are not represented on the inquiry. And still there is no justice.”

In July, the Metropolitan Police published a letter which claimed there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect that Kensington and Chelsea council, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation that managed the tower block, could be found guilty of corporate manslaughter.

That was followed in August by an interview given by the director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, who said that “gross negligence manslaughter” was one of the offences that prosecutors will consider if there is sufficient evidence.

Then, in December, in the opening session of the public inquiry into the disaster, Jeremy Johnson QC, representing the Metropolitan Police, repeated that charges of criminal offences of manslaughter and corporate manslaughter were being considered.

Despite these comments, no one responsible for the disaster has been arrested or charged so far.

I put it to Williams that the police may feel like they need more time to collect evidence before they can make arrests. “We’re not asking to rush things. We want a thorough criminal investigation”, she said. “However, if you or I had a hand in burning downing Grenfell, we would have been brought in for questioning a long time ago. We’d probably be sitting on remand or on the way to Wormwood Scrubs.

“We know who had a hand in it – why are these people still living their normal lifestyle? The disparity between what would happen to you or I during a criminal investigation, and what happens to elected officials… Their priority has been to check the immigration status of survivors and prosecute a fraudster, rather than looking at what happened here and who’s responsible.”

The Grenfell billboards mirror the ones Frances McDormand’s character erects in the Three Billboards film after she becomes frustrated with the police investigation into her daughter’s murder. In the movie she puts up three billboards on the edge of a small town that read “RAPED WHILE DYING”, “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”, “HOW COME CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”

I ask Williams whether, like in the film, the billboards have created a quick response from the authorities. She says they haven’t heard anything new today from the police or the council, “but there’s such a powerful line in that film – she says, ‘The more you keep a case in the public eye, the better your chances of getting it solved.’ So we’ll continue to keep the case in the public eye.”

See also here.