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24 Feb 2021

Robert Booth, The Guardian

UK: Grenfell Tower inquiry reveals panels manufacturer Arconic was aware of cladding issues; incl. co. comments

"Arconic HQ was probably told of cladding issues, Grenfell inquiry hears", 22 February 2021

One of the most senior US executives at Arconic was probably told that the company’s cladding panels were unsafe for buildings above 12 metres in height two years before the Grenfell Tower disaster, a public inquiry has heard.

The $7bn-a-year-turnover aluminium specialist sold the plastic-filled panels for use on the apartment block in west London, which was 67 metres tall and went up in flames in June 2017, killing 72 people.

In June 2015 the company’s French subsidiary produced an assessment of the safety of the cladding panels at the request of Diana Perreiah, president of Arconic’s global building and construction systems business.

It said the polyethylene-filled (PE) aluminium panels were “flammable”, had limitations “given by the smoke production and flaming droplets” and could only be used on buildings up to 12 metres. The inquiry has already concluded that Arconic’s Reynobond 55 PE panels were the main cause of the spread of the fire.

Perreiah sought the assessment from Claude Schmidt, the president of Arconic’s French subsidiary, who told the inquiry he was “practically sure” it was sent to her.

Arconic was selling the panels in the UK on the basis that they were safe for buildings over 18 metres. It had failed to update UK safety certificates after fire tests of the same panels used at Grenfell went so badly they had to be stopped, meaning the material could only be rated E for fire performance. The certificate that was consulted by the Grenfell builders claimed they reached a B classification for fire.

The revelation brings the US headquarters of Arconic into the spotlight of the public inquiry, which has so far focused largely on its French subsidiary that operated in the UK market. Last year a US court rejected a product liability claim for damages against Arconic brought by survivors and the bereaved, on the basis that it should be heard in the UK.

Arconic said: “It is not appropriate for us to comment while the inquiry is ongoing and before all evidence has been presented in phase two [of the inquiry].”...