Grenfell One Year On - Public Danger greater than ever
Comment on the Grenfell fire

One year has passed since the Grenfell disaster and we are little further toward knowing why so many died that night.  The five suggestions I made to the Housing Minister has gone unacknowledged and nothing remotely similar has been implemented.  A minute number of buildings have had their cladding changed and fire wardens have begun to appear although their role appears unclear.

Some details which have appeared in the media have changed my assessment:
  1. Gaps around the Windows.
    Residents have reported that around the windows there were gaps around the windows, so large that sometimes the wind blew into the flats.  I speculated that the fire could have spread through an open window, but that condition is now no longer necessary - the fire could have spread through the gaps with fuel in the form of sealant available every inch of the way.  That the fire had multiple routes to the cladding makes it more likely that this will occur.
  2. Polyurethane used as Insulation.
    Some of the survivors had symptoms of hydrogen cyanide poisoning.  I speculated that this could be due to some residents having substandard second-hand furniture.  We now know that there was a much more abundant source.

The polymer insulation is now known to be polyurethane, which emits hydrogen cyanide when it burns.  The gap between the aluminium sheets and the building would form a gap in which toxic fumes could spread, even before the fire became visible on the outside. The gaps around the windows would provide a route into the flats where people would be waiting as instructed under "stay put".  They would have very little time between realising there was a problem and inhaling a fatal dose.

For me the question has now changed from asking how so many people could have died to asking how did so many people manage to survive.

We now know that tower blocks are much more dangerous than they appeared even in the wake of the Grenfell fire.  Despite endless repetitions of "must never happen again" and the media circus surrounding the public enquiry, extremely little has been done to improve safety for those who live in them.

Dr Eddy Hunt
12 June 2018