Preston, UK – PU Europe has called for a systems approach to the causes of the Grenfell Tower fire following a peer reviewed paper from the UK University of Central Lancashire.
The paper will be formally published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials
on 15 April 2019. It is called: Fire behaviour of modern facade materials – Understanding the Grenfell Tower fire.
The paper examines the way widely-used insulation and cladding materials behave in fires. It also analyses the smoke produced when they burn.
Arnaud Duvielguerbigny is the general secretary of PU Europe, the trade association for rigid polyurethane foam producers in the EU.
In a statement he said: ‘we would like to express our support to the full-blown official UK Inquiry and investigation process into this tragic fire.’
Fire engulfed the Grenfell tower on the night of 13 June 2017 and it killed 73 people. The exterior of the building was clad in a mixture of polyisocyanurate and phenolic panels. External cladding of aluminium-polyethylene composite panels protected the insulation layer from the weather.
London’s Metropolitan Police are investigating to see if the fire is a criminal matter. There is also a Public Inquiry under retired Judge Martin Moore-Blick.
Duvielguerbigny continued: ‘In the report, the authors create a link from the PIR insulation materials, and their said smoke toxicity potential, to the devastating toll of the Grenfell fire.’
He stressed that the Public Enquiry has unearthed a number of structural and organisational factors that could have significantly contributed to the fire and loss of life.
He added: ‘It is wrong to focus on a component of a building.’
Duvielguerbigny said it is important to ‘look at the end-use application, from design to actual application of the system. The research paper does however go into that a little. It states “it is arguable whether the refurbished facade was actually compliant” in its introduction. But it does not address this aspect later.’
According to the freely available abstract of the paper researchers found that: ‘Compared to the least flammable panels, polyethylene-aluminium composites showed 55 times greater peak heat release rates (pHRR) and 70 times greater total heat release (THR), while widely-used high-pressure laminate panels showed 25 times greater pHRR and 115 times greater THR.’
The researches moved on to building insulation panels. They found that: ‘Compared to the least combustible insulation products, polyisocyanurate foam showed 16 times greater pHRR and 35 times greater THR, while phenolic foam showed 9x greater pHRR and 48x greater THR. A few burning drips of polyethylene from the panelling are enough to ignite the foam insulation.’
The researches add that this could be ‘a novel explanation for rapid flame-spread within the [Grenfell Tower] facade. Smoke from polyisocyanurates was 15 times, and phenolics 5 times more toxic than from mineral wool insulation.
‘Our research demonstrates the need for tighter regulations around flammable and toxic building products, especially when used on towers or buildings with vulnerable occupants, as this could put lives at serious risk,’ study author Richard Hull, a professor of chemistry and fire Science, told the journal.
‘The tests that we have carried out provide crucial evidence around the large differences in the fire safety of construction products used on UK buildings, and have clear implications for regulators to ensure the fire safety of occupants living in these buildings.’