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12 Mar 2021

Robert Booth, The Guardian

UK: Memo shows cladding manufacturer Arconic was warned of fire risks a decade prior to Grenfell Tower disaster

"Company that sold Grenfell panels was warned in 2007 they could kill", 10 March 2021

The company that sold the combustible panels that spread the Grenfell Tower fire was warned a decade before the disaster that such material burns like fuel oil, releases lethal toxic smoke and could become involved in a fire killing up to 70 people, the public inquiry into the disaster has heard.

In an uncanny foreshadowing of the June 2017 disaster that claimed 72 lives, an executive from Arconic attended a seminar in Norway in 2007 where a cladding expert raised the question of a manufacturer’s responsibility if a “building made out of polyethylene (PE) core” cladding were to catch fire, killing “60 to 70 persons”.

Gerard Sontag, the Arconic executive who attended the seminar, reported back to the company that he was so concerned by the expert’s warning that Arconic should consider only selling the panels with a fire retardant (FR) core, but that didn’t happen.

The firm went on to sell its PE product for use on Grenfell and it became the main cause of fire spread, engulfing the 24-storey block in less than 30 minutes and fuelling the worst loss of life in a single incident in London since the second world war.

The revelation came as the inquiry “empty chaired” three witnesses from Arconic’s French division, including its technical chief, Claude Wehrle, who have refused to face questioning. Counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett QC, instead raised questions he would have asked and disclosed internal documents that delivered fresh revelations about what the wing of the US company knew of the risks posed by its products.

Millett showed that in June 2011, Arconic warned a Spanish customer not to use its PE panels because they achieved the low fire performance rating E, which the customer remarked was “close to spontaneous combustion”. But in 2014, Arconic sold the same panels to the Grenfell project on the basis of a UK fire performance certificate that suggested the materials were rated B...

...The inquiry continues.