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Grenfell Tower insulation ‘never passed fire-safety test’

Grenfell tower guido van nispen flickr
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Insulation that burned out of control on the Grenfell Tower never passed a fire-safety test and should not have been used, a BBC investigation has claimed

It is alleged by Panorama that the product used on the high-rise was a more flammable version of the insulation that had previously passed safety tests. 

According to the programme, the insulation with the more flammable formula was then sold for public use and fitted on buildings around the country. 

The plastic foam insulation, manufactured by Celotex, was installed underneath cladding made of combustible polyethylene-filled panels that were fitted to the tower’s exterior.

The insulation, called RS5000, burns when exposed to heat and gives off toxic cyanide fumes. The product is no longer on sale.

The test carried out on the insulation showed that RS5000 was only safe to use on certain new-build projects when it was combined with a specific fire-proof cladding panel, according to the investigation.

Celotex told the programme’s producers it could not comment because it was co-operating with the police investigation and the public inquiry, but it did not deny the allegations. 

The programme also revealed that the cladding panels and insulation used at Grenfell were never tested together before the fire.

Robert Bond, chief executive of the contractor Rydon which worked on the £8.6 million refit, told the programme that testing of the cladding system wasn’t required because ‘it was deemed to comply’.

The public inquiry into the fire that killed 72 people last June started this week, and will begin with nine days of tributes to those who lost their lives.

A statement on Celotex’s website stated: ‘The decision to suspend the supply of RS5000 was taken on 23 June 2017 and remains in place.

‘We are following the independent review of Building Regulations and fire safety, and the comments from the industry and its stakeholders around testing. We continue to offer full co-operation with the Grenfell Tower inquiry and related investigations.’

Updated Celotex statement (22 May)

As you may have seen, the BBC’s Panorama programme from 21 May 2018 focused on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower and raised certain allegations in connection with the Celotex business. We take these allegations extremely seriously. 

It is important to note that, as was mentioned in the programme, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the Police investigation are on-going. We have been, and will continue to fully co-operate with these official processes. It is absolutely right that we continue to do this; all of the issues raised in the programme, and many more, will be investigated in detail. The Inquiry has stated its aim of establishing the facts relating to the Grenfell Tower fire, an exercise which involves the consideration of many different parties and complex inter-related issues.

During the programme a new allegation was made that Celotex had added fire retardant to the formula of a product sample which was used for a safety certificate and that a different product to this was actually sold.  Prior to Panorama raising this, we were unaware of this allegation and had not identified anything which would support it.  Celotex is investigating this allegation via all avenues as a matter of urgency.

Celotex has not used any special formulation for the recent successful BS-8414 system test in May 2018 or Class 0 fire testing.  It is very hard to understand the Panorama allegation alongside those tests. 

The current management of Celotex are absolutely determined to do the right thing. That means cooperating fully with the Inquiry and other official investigations, and sharing with them all relevant material.  We will continue to provide updates as appropriate.

As the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire approaches, we continue to express our deepest sympathies to the families of all those who lost their lives in the fire and to everyone who was and remains affected by it.

Comment

Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants

‘The allegation that essentially the test certificate [for the RS5000] was falsified I find quite shocking. It calls into doubt the entire testing system. There needs to be a review of the product testing & certification scheme.

It’s also alleged that no BS 8414 test certificate has ever been produced for this combination nor have we seen a desktop study. It almost seems to have been waved through.

Why did building control allow this combination of cladding and insulation material to go on?

The implication is that, 12 months, on nothing has still been done to stop similar flammable material being used. So despite £400milion being spent on replacing the cladding, in theory the same stuff could be put back on again.’

The Hackitt Review suggested the Building Inspection regime should be limited to local authorities – yet it was local authorities who approved the material at both Grenfell and Lakanal House. It suggests that there needs to be a proper licensing system and enforcement of the authorities themselves.’

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