12 September 2020
Below is a series of emails which I think are self-explanatory for the most part. Professor Alan Penn is Chief Scientific Advisor at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. As of today, he has not replied to the final email in this chain. This leaves his only evidence in support of his claim that flame retardants are "fantastically successful" a report that I commissioned in 2009 and which became invalid when we proved in 2014 that the Furniture Regulations basically do not work.
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Many thanks to all of you who were able to join the community event on Monday [July 20], we hope you found it informative and interesting.
If you weren’t able to join you can watch a video of the event on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/hxyfql-ePno
Also attached is the slide pack that was shown during the event.
A Grenfell environmental checks community update will follow and include all the questions and answers from the event and next steps.
Community Engagement and Communications Manager
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
T – 03034 449 086
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From: Terry Edge
Sent: 22 July 2020 13:27
To: Alan Penn & Paul Nathanail,
Subject: Follow up questions regarding flame retardants in the Grenfell Tower Fire
Dear Professor Penn and Doctor Nathanail,
Thank you both for giving your time on Monday to answer questions about the toxicity work being undertaken on the Grenfell Tower fire.
I appreciate you must both be very busy but hoped that you might be able to answer some follow-up questions I and colleagues have regarding specifically the question you answered (which I posed) about whether or not you agreed that most of the hydrogen cyanide in the Grenfell Tower fire that caused fatalities came more from burning internal products like furniture and not cladding.
You agreed that flame retardants in cladding and furniture would have made the fire more toxic. But you said that flame retardants have been "fantastically successful" in preventing furniture fires. I would be very grateful if you could provide the evidence you have for this – I may have missed some relevant papers. We have never found any such evidence, other than one or two clearly biased researches sponsored by the flame retardant industry. Indeed, the Environmental Audit Committee (please see below) pointed out that New Zealand has experienced an almost identical drop in furniture fire deaths to the UK over the same period (from the late eighties when the UK introduced our furniture fire regulations) yet it has no fire safety regulations and its furniture contains no flame retardants.
Indeed, you may be interested to learn that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in New Zealand produced a cost benefit analysis in March this year on introducing a product safety standard for fire-retardant foam furniture and concluded against doing so:
Regulating for fire-retardant foam not a preferred option
The CBA shows that the costs of a product safety standard outweigh the benefits, and that these costs are likely to be passed on to consumers. It also shows that regulations of this type might have unintended consequences, by resulting in the introduction of potentially hazardous chemicals. The toxicity of fire retardants is an increasing concern internationally, with some jurisdictions moving away from requiring them.
Based on this evidence, MBIE does not recommend that a product safety standard for fire- retardant foam is introduced at this time.
The report can be accessed here.
You also stated that the match test [in the furniture fire safety regulations] ensures that sofas do not catch fire. You may be unaware that the government itself proved 6 years ago that the match test is not fit for purpose, revealed in the Department for Business's 2014 consultation on changing the Regulations:
Please see the "Technical annex", second document down on this page and the main consultation document, fifth document down.
Last year, in its inquiry into toxic chemicals in everyday life, the Environmental Audit Committee confirmed that the match test is not fit for purpose and in its final report recommended that the government change the regulations to in effect remove this test, along with the fillings test, which in turn would remove flame retardants from UK furniture. EAC report:
I and my colleagues would be very grateful if you could kindly inform us whether or not you are aware of these findings regarding the furniture regulations. If not, it would be very helpful if you were able to agree that they show the regulations do not in practice help to prevent fires and therefore that flame retardant chemicals in our furniture are ineffective. However, if you have evidence that proves these findings wrong and establishes that the match test is in fact effective, we would be very grateful to receive it and ensure that we provide the correct advice in future.
Many thanks in advance for your time.
I have copied in colleagues with an interest in this subject, including various NGOs and the FBU.
Advisor to the London Fire Brigades Union Contaminants Group
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From: environmental-checks <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tuesday, 4 August 2020 at 10:46
To: Terry Edge
Cc: environmental-checks <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Follow up questions regarding flame retardants in the Grenfell Tower Fire
Please see below for reply from Professor Alan Penn to your recent questions.
Many thanks, Fran, Environmental Checks Team.
‘Dear Mr Edge,
Thank you for your email. I am glad that you found the community event on the second stage soil contamination investigation useful. It was a really valuable opportunity for Gideon and I - who are responsible for providing independent oversight and advice on the scientific aspects of the Grenfell environmental checks - to hear the local community’s questions and understand their concerns.
You ask about evidence for the effectiveness of the Furniture and Furnishings Regulations (1988) which I referred to as a fantastic success. I would refer you to the December 2009 report by Greenstreet Berman, ‘A statistical report to investigate the effectiveness of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988’. Taking into account that there are a number different factors at play since 1988, including reduction in smoking and increased installation of fire alarms, this report concluded that at that time more than 700 lives had been saved. The report refers also to a previous study by the University of Surrey which I have not seen.
Many thanks for pointing me towards the New Zealand report which I was not aware of.
In terms of the match test, I don’t think that I did refer to that, but if so it was in error. I was talking about the cigarette on soft furnishing being a regular starting point for domestic fires and the importance of the FFRs in mitigating that.
I understand that the independent Grenfell Tower Inquiry will be examining the evidence relating to the circumstances in which the deceased met their deaths. You can find more information on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry website: https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/
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From: Terry Edge
Sent: 10 August 2020 11:03
To: environmental-checks <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: (Colleagues working in Cancer Research, fire services and manufacturing of flame retardant free furniture)
Subject: RE: Follow up questions regarding flame retardants in the Grenfell Tower Fire
Dear Professor Penn,
Thank you for taking the trouble to respond to our recent emails.
The four of us would be delighted to meet you with the aim of discussing in further detail the subject of toxicity and the Grenfell Tower fire – please see below for our details. We have worked closely together for a number of years and believe that between us we possess extensive knowledge of fire behaviour, chemicals in fires, relevant legislation and how the manufacturing process produces some unusual fire toxicity effects; much of this information not readily available. For example, one of us is a firefighter who actually attended the Grenfell fire and has some unique views to offer, based on a mixture of experience and his crusading work on contaminants for the Fire Brigades Union.
We are willing to meet in person or virtually according to current restrictions. We would be grateful if could you provide some times and dates that are convenient for you.
* * *
From: PSChiefScientificAdviser <PSChiefScientificAdviser@communities.gov.uk>
Date: Monday, 24 August 2020 at 07:57
To: Terry <email@example.com>
Cc: environmental-checks <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: Follow up questions regarding flame retardants in the Grenfell Tower Fire
Thank you for your email, and please accept my apologies for not getting back to you before now.
It might be helpful if I summarise the role of the Chief Scientific Advisers in this process. Alan (and his counterpart at Defra, Gideon Henderson) have an independent advisory role within the confines of a land contamination investigation under Part 2A Environmental Protection Act. This role, along with the Science Advisory Group (SAG), is to assure the scientific approach and basis of any revised public health messaging arising from the investigation. The investigation is aimed at identifying possible land contamination as a result of the fire. That means identifying specific contaminants present in the soil and assessing the health risks. The investigation is not designed to address the process of how the fire released any contaminants, including via flame retardants in furniture.
I hope you will therefore understand that Alan’s role in this statutory process means that it would not be appropriate to meet to discuss the issue of flame retardants. As was mentioned in the earlier reply, below, the independent Grenfell Tower Inquiry will be examining the evidence relating to the circumstances in which the deceased met their deaths: https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/
I appreciate that this will be disappointing news, but thank you for getting in touch on this issue.
David Hughes | Head of Chief Scientific Adviser’s Office | Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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From: Terry <email@example.com>
Date: Thursday, 27 August 2020 at 20:51
To: Alan Penn
Subject: Re: Follow up questions regarding flame retardants in the Grenfell Tower Fire
Dear Professor Penn,
The response from David Hughes [above] is unacceptable, misleading and suspicious. Apart from anything else, if it is not your role to discuss the part played by flame retardant chemicals in the Grenfell Tower fire, why did you answer questions on this very subject at the virtual community event and my follow-up question on the same?
What could possibly be "inappropriate" about you putting yourself forward to learn more about factors affecting the fire from a firefighter who was actually there, an expert in chemicals and cancer research, an expert in the effects of flame retardants on burning furniture, and an expert in fire safety regulation? The fact you do not wish to is frankly suspect and this email will be copied to colleagues at Grenfell so that they can be clear about your aversion to being well informed on a subject you have just recently been discussing with them.
Your answer to my follow-up question unfortunately demonstrates ignorance of the furniture fire safety regulations and fails to prove your contention that flame retardants have been "fantastically successful". You said:
"You ask about evidence for the effectiveness of the Furniture and Furnishings Regulations (1988) which I referred to as a fantastic success. I would refer you to the December 2009 report by Greenstreet Berman, ‘A statistical report to investigate the effectiveness of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988’. Taking into account that there are a number different factors at play since 1988, including reduction in smoking and increased installation of fire alarms, this report concluded that at that time more than 700 lives had been saved. The report refers also to a previous study by the University of Surrey which I have not seen."
First, even if the Furniture Regulations have been successful, this is not proof that flame retardants are. But the fact is that the Regulations are proven to be ineffective anyway.
Second, I commissioned the Greenstreet Berman report so am very well placed to discuss it. It was commissioned at a time when the government believed the Regulations worked. And this assumption was used by GB to estimate numbers of lives saved by them. However, the links I sent you before, to BEIS's 2014 consultation and Technical Annex, prove conclusively that the Regulations are not in fact effective, primarily because the match test fails in around 90% of cases. No one – not even the flame retardant industry – has been able to disprove these findings; indeed, they were acknowledged by the Environmental Audit Committee last year who shaped their recommendations to BEIS to change the Regulations accordingly. Incidentally, the GB report estimated the Regulations were saving around 54 lives per year, not 700 as you state.
Third, the 2000 Surrey University report was produced by Professor Gary Stevens who was and is funded by the flame retardant industry; indeed, he produced an expanded report on the same subject a few years later funded by the European Flame Retardants Association. Stevens claimed the Regulations were then saving around 70 lives per year. However, UK fire statistics record only deaths from fire, i.e. it is not possible to know how many were saved. He also assumed the Regulations work. Now we know they don't, it's impossible to say that any lives are saved by them.
Given the above, can you now please produce evidence that flame retardants are successful in saving lives in furniture fires? Or, in the absence of such proof, acknowledge that the existing evidence shows that flame retardants do nothing by way of fire safety in UK furniture. If you choose not to comment further, we will assume you agree on the ineffectiveness of flame retardants.
We remain keen, open, honest and willing to discuss this subject further with you, towards a healthier society and cleaner environment.
31st October 2019
BBC Radio London phoned me to ask if I'd speak on their early breakfast show, hosted by Petrie Hosken. The discussion was focussed on the Grenfell Inquiry's Phase One Report that had been issued the previous day. I spoke for about nine minutes and you can listen to it here. Up to this point, the conversation had mainly been about the Report's criticism of the London Fire Brigade on the night of the fire. However, I had told the BBC beforehand that I would not discuss that; just my concerns about the role the failed Furniture Regulations played in the fire. And that's what I focussed on.
1st November 2019
ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT COMMITTEE ON THE GOVERNMENT'S POOR RECORD FOR GRENFELL BIOMONITORING AND ITS FAILURE TO PUT THE FURNITURE REGULATIONS RIGHT
I thought it was worth highlighting the fact that on 30th October, the Environmental Audit Committee published a press release in response to the Government's official response to the EAC's report into toxic chemicals in everyday life (published 10th July 2019). They can be accessed here:
This is of course the same day that the Grenfell Inquiry published its report of Phase 1. The timing is not coincidental. As you can see, Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the EAC, is very critical of the Government's failure to act on biomonitoring for Grenfell residents.
The EAC is also highly critical of the Government for opting to delay once again on putting right the Furniture Regulations and failing to remove children's mattresses from scope.
There is some good news, however - check the third bullet point under "Wider Action on Toxic Chemicals". The Government has agreed to direct the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council to consider making firefighter cancers an industrial injury. Much of the credit for this must go to the new Contaminants Group in the Fire Brigades Union who have in a very short space of time caused positive waves of change towards dealing with diseases caused by fire contaminants. I'm very proud to be an advisor to this group.
Below the EAC email is an email I circulated to various colleagues, including the EAC, with my thoughts on the Government's response regarding the Furniture Regs and setting out why, despite the Government claiming it will have new regulations in place within a year, the true time scale will be many years more.
From: Environmental Audit Committee <EACOM@parliament.uk>
Date: Tuesday, 29 October 2019 at 12:45
Subject: Government response embargoed 10.00am GMT 30 October: EAC Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life
House of Commons
Environmental Audit Committee
EMBARGOED: Not for publication or broadcast in any form before 10.00AM GMT Wednesday 30 October 2019
MPs condemn Government ‘failure’ to act on biomonitoring for Grenfell residents
The Environmental Audit Committee expresses concerns over the Government’s refusal to monitor the exposure of Grenfell residents to potentially toxic chemicals. Today the Committee published the Government’s response to their Toxic Chemical Report, which addressed a range of issues around chemicals in consumer products, including furniture, baby products and toys. The Committee voiced their concerns for the Grenfell community:
On Grenfell, the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, said:
“The Government has utterly failed Grenfell residents in the aftermath of the disaster. Rejecting our call for a comprehensive biomonitoring scheme- which would reassure Grenfell’s traumatised community- is another example of public authorities’ complacent and patronising attitude towards residents after the fire.”
On the Government’s response to wider calls for toxic chemical action, Mary Creagh MP said:
“It’s absurd that the Government continues to ignore repeated advice to reform their outdated flame retardant regulations. Despite two consultations in the near-decade since first becoming aware of the issue, the Government displays supine indifferences to our furniture standards which are no longer fit for purpose.
“Holding yet another consultation means kicking the can further down the road, retaining current levels of potentially harmful chemicals in babies’ mattresses for another two years. While standing up for the welfare of firefighters is one thing, action must be taken for to prevent harm, not just compensate for it.”
In the Environmental Audit Committee’s Report, published in July 2019, the Committee recommended that Public Health England design a biomonitoring scheme which would determine the exposure of residents around the Grenfell Tower site to potentially toxic chemicals. Despite evidence of residents’ health concerns following the fire, the Government has rejected the recommendation.
Wider Action on Toxic Chemicals
In its Report, the Committee also called for urgent reconsideration of the timeframe set out by the Government to make vital reforms to the UK’s toxic chemical regulations. In its response, the Government has rejected several of the Committee’s key recommendations:
The Government sets the date for publication of new Furniture and Furnishings Regulations for autumn 2021, citing their intention to hold a consultation first. This is despite previous consultations in 2014 and 2016 which proposed amendments to current standards. The recommendation made by the Committee to remove products for babies and children- the most at-risk groups- from the scope of the regulations has also been rejected.
The Committee is encouraged by the Government’s willingness to presume the most common cancers suffered by firefighters as industrial industries, urging the Government to deliver on its intention without delay. The Committee also acknowledges the Government’s engagement with a number of the Report’s key recommendations related to biomonitoring, chemicals mixtures, green chemistry approaches and a public information campaign about chemicals. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, the Committee calls for the Government to prioritise pushing forwards on the formulation of its Chemicals Strategy.
In July this year, the Committee published its Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life Report.
EAC Committee: Environmental Audit Committee membership
Media information: Emily Pritchard - firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7219 3172 / 07734 974282
Committee website: Environmental Audit Committee
Specific Committee Information: email@example.com 020 7219 8890
Committee news and reports and much more www.parliament.uk. Watch committees and parliamentary debates live and on-demand www.parliamentlive.tv
Follow us on Twitter: @CommonsEAC
[Email to various from Terry Edge]
A few comments on the Government Response to the EAC regarding the Furniture Regulations
The undisputed fact remains that BEIS proved 5 years ago that the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 are unfit for purpose and do not even provide fire safety. This latest delay – of several more years – simply means UK furniture will remain stuffed with toxic flame retardants that do nothing but threaten human health and the environment.
BEIS's intention to produce new regulations and commission the British Standards Institute to provide new technical standards for them is unworkable for the following reasons:
BEIS announced nearly four months ago that BSI had agreed to do this work but this is a lie. There is no record that they have even contacted BSI to the present day.
BEIS's arbitrary deadline for new regulations of autumn 2021 is completely unworkable. Creating a new regulatory framework will take at least that long – and given they've taken ten years so far on a review that is still contentious – probably much longer. After that, new British Standard will take at least 3-5 years more.
16th October 2019
Whew! Grenfell fire was non-toxic after all.
Below is an email I circulated to some colleagues today.
This seems absurd, from just about any angle, e.g:
“They discovered chemicals they would expect to find at fires, including brominated flame retardants, in very few samples and in low concentrations.”
“Low concentrations”? Surely, firefighting foam alone would add considerably to organohalogens in the soil around the tower.
I’m not a scientist but surely blood tests targeting specific chemicals are needed? This proved decisive in the case against Du Pont in the US, who had been knowingly poisoning thousands of local people with PFOA, an organohalogen. However, the analysis of the blood samples was undertaken by a team of truly independent toxicologists, i.e. each side – Du Pont and the plaintiffs’ lawyers – had to agree on each appointment. Here, we have MHCLG (who of course should be in the dock over buildings/fire safety regs) simply appointing AECOM to do the work. Then there’s this:
“The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, who chairs the scientific advisory group overseeing the tests said his team “has confidence in the results from stage 1” of the tests. This will be used to draw up plans for the second stage in the investigation.”
However, at https://www.gov.uk/government/people/patrick-vallance we find that Sir Patrick was President of R&D at GlaxoSmithKline from 2012 to 2017. On his patch, GSK got fined $3bn after pleading guilty to criminal charges of fraud:
And he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence here: https://truthman30.wordpress.com/category/patrick-vallance/ e.g. in response to charges about how a GSK drug, seroxat, was killing children, Sir Pat said:
“It’s inevitable that side effects things will occur from time to time”
Good to know the government is appointing scientists who have public health so high on their agenda, to oversee potential poisoning of hundreds/thousands of people at the scene of the largest domestic fire since the war, and where true results could of course see the chemical industry take a massive hit.
I think this is very serious, not just for Grenfell but for any other fire, i.e. it’s saying in effect that UK domestic fires are non-toxic. Apart from anything else, this could be used by fire services leadership to argue that firefighters are not facing high levels of contaminants in fires and therefore are not contracting higher than normal levels of cancer.
Stage 1 summary of report (with links to full report) can be accessed here.
Grenfell Community Update can be accessed here.
28th August 2019
The truth is often clad in undeclared motives
Last month, Professor Anna Stec resigned from the Scientific Advisory Group to the Grenfell Inquiry over concerns that not enough is being done to check if survivors' health has been affected by toxic chemicals from the fire. She was reacting to a report by AECOM – appointed by the government to carry out test samples – which claimed in effect that levels of chemicals were typical of those "generally found" in urban areas.
In her own tests, however, Stec found soil samples within 140m of the Tower that contained six key cancer-causing chemicals at levels 160 times higher than in soil from similar urban areas.
Suspicion about AECOM's findings was increased because the government flouted its own procurement rules by not going out to tender for the work, instead just appointing AECOM. The Department for Business did the same when it simply appointed Intertek to look into the fridge-freezer type that started the Grenfell fire, concluding that it did not present a risk. Despite at least 72 people dying in a fire started by the same type of product.
The press reported that Stec "also found phosphorous flame retardants, which are found in insulation foams and furniture and can be potentially toxic to the nervous system, in soil near the Tower."
Some Grenfell survivors were surprised by this statement. Not because it isn't true but because during her time as expert witness to the Inquiry, Stec had barely mentioned the role flame retardants in furniture played in the fire. This despite her having published a paper in Chemosphere just a few months after the fire detailing how very much more toxic a fire is when burning flame retardants in furniture are involved.
In a phone call with Anna Stec about a year ago, I asked her why she was spending so much time talking about cladding, when much of her work over the years has been about the toxicity of furniture fires. Clearly, Grenfell Tower was stuffed with huge amounts of upholstered furniture, containing around 45kgs of flame retardants per flat. While the cladding ensured that flame-spread up the sides of the tower was rapid, most of the fumes and smoke from the cladding itself would have stayed outside (basic physics). Hence, the majority of fatal toxic fumes inside the Tower would likely have come from burning furniture.
Her answers to this were somewhat confusing. She claimed that the Inquiry could not look at two sources of toxic fumes at once; that it made sense to look at cladding first. Then she claimed that cladding would have set light to sofas which people keep near to their windows. Apart from this obviously not necessarily being the case, the principle is the same anyway: whatever ignited the furniture, it was the flame retardants in it that did most of the damage. And, I said, why can't the Inquiry look at all sources of toxic fumes? But she did not answer.
There is very much that could be said about all of this but given that a lot would be speculation, I thought I'd just stick to a few facts for now.
Up until 2013, the flame retardant industry was in great shape where furniture was concerned. It had the US market, meaning around a billion kgs of flame retardants sold per year. The UK was its flag ship market because our Furniture Regulations all but demanded that flame retardants were necessary for fire safety. And for around ten years it had been gradually working the rest of the EU towards taking up the same fire safety requirements as the UK. At the same time, it was expanding its new world markets – India, Africa, China, etc – on the back of the West either being on board or about to get on. It was also increasing its markets in building materials, again on the back of its supposed success in furniture and related products.
But then . . .
In 2014, California/the USA changed its furniture flammability standard to exclude flame retardants. Around the same time, the European Commission let it be known that it was no longer interested in raising EU requirements unless they could be met without flame retardants. But the biggest blow to the industry was the UK announcing that it too was changing its furniture standards in order to reduce flame retardants. Worse still, it had discovered that the Furniture Regulations don't even work which meant flame retardants in furniture were/are doing nothing to prevent or delay fires, just poisoning us all, especially when they burn.
The evidence of the toxicity of flame retardants had also been increasing, with chemicals regularly banned and their replacements almost identical and sure to be banned also.
Grenfell Tower was potentially the final nail in the FR coffin where furniture is concerned. And the Environment Audit Committee in its report in July this year lambasted the Department for Business for failing to change the Furniture Regulations, instead maintaining a regime where there is no fire safety, just toxic poisoning on a massive scale. At the same time, FBU firefighters are increasingly protesting about the high rates of cancer they suffer due to the high levels of flame retardants in UK furniture.
So, the question that remains is why did Anna Stec play down the role of burning furniture in the Tower during her time on the Inquiry, instead highlighting cladding, and why did she choose to talk about it in her resignation letter while making no direct mention of cladding?
From: Terry Edge
Date: Wednesday, 28 August 2019 at 13:00
To: Grenfell Tower Inquiry Mailbox <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Cathy Kennedy <email@example.com>
Cc: wide range of interested parties
Subject: Re: Ref #2833 re: Professor David Purser
Dear Ms Kennedy,
I am writing on two related issues.
First, the Inquiry’s failure to investigate the considerable role played by burning flame retardants in furniture in the toxicity of the fire in Grenfell Tower. When I discussed this with you earlier this year, you reassured me that this subject would be properly covered in Phase 2. However, in your letter of 22 July to Core Participants setting out the programme for Phase 2, there is no mention at all of either the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations nor flame retardants. You will be aware that Professor Anna Stec recently resigned from the Inquiry, expressing her concerns that not enough is being done to check if survivors’ health has been affected by toxic chemicals from the fire. She drew attention to phosphorous flame retardants released from furniture which can be potentially toxic to the nervous system, that she’d found in soil near the Tower. Clearly, this is a subject that the Inquiry must now properly look into.
You may be aware that the Environment Audit Committee recently published its report on toxic chemicals in everyday life. It focussed on flame retardants in furniture and was extremely critical of the fact the government has failed to put right regulations that are doing little for fire safety but which lead to massive volumes of flame retardant chemicals that are a threat to health, and which make fires more toxic when they burn.
Next week, the All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group is to discuss the issue of flame retardants in furniture. A leading fire chief, Bob Graham, who played a key role in setting up the Furniture Regulations says he now agrees that the regulations mostly do not work and therefore that flame retardants in furniture are doing little to aid fire safety.
Given the obvious relevance of this subject to the Grenfell fire, can we please now have your assurance that it will indeed be fully investigated in Phase 2.
Secondly, the issue of Professor David Purser’s close ties with the flame retardant industry (I’ve attached the evidence once again for convenience). Paul Edens’ response below is unsatisfactory and dismissive. We need to see the Inquiry’s specific reasons for stating that the evidence against David Purser is “without relevance or significance”. Given the significant financial damage that a negative report on the effects of flame retardants in the Grenfell Tower fire could inflict on the chemical industry, we would appreciate your detailed reasoning as to why someone who has consistently supported that industry is not in danger of representing a conflict of interests.
1st August 2019
Toxicologist to the Inquiry and his long-time support for the flame retardant industry
When I saw Grenfell Tower enveloped in fire and smoke one of my first thoughts was what is the flame retardant industry going to do about this? Because it was clear to me that the vast majority of the lethal toxic fumes inside the Tower were coming from burning flame retardants in furniture. And, as I've explained elsewhere on this site, those FRs are in UK furniture because of our very tough Furniture Regulations.
But in 2014, the government proved that the Regulations aren't working. Changes were proposed but have been blocked ever since (the latest block is the BEIS response– sorry, non-response - of 19th July 2019, to its 2016 consultation on putting right the Regulations). Hence much of the upholstered furniture in Grenfell Tower was flammable and toxic when it shouldn't have been – thanks to the flame retardant industry and its (nicely well off) supporters, one of whom, believe it or not, was appointed to head up the Grenfell independent experts panel. Surprisingly enough, he has remained impervious to our requests that he and the panel look into the role the Furniture Regulations played in the fire.
Well, the FR industry got one of its supporters into the press on the very day of the fire – see my entry for June 13th 2018 below, regarding Dr Malcolm Tunnicliff. He made the extraordinary and completely false statement that only "old furniture" produces toxic fumes. Hmmmm.
In this entry I want to talk about someone who has a long history of supporting the flame retardant industry. He's British but went out of his way to sign a petition in 2013 in the USA by one of the three big flame-retardant producers, Chemtura (now Lanxess) to prevent California changing its furniture flammability standard from an open flame to a smoulder test (which would remove the need for flame retardants in US furniture). He also wrote a response on behalf of his company to California's consultation, urging them to retain the open flame test (and with it the massive market for FRs that the USA represented). Could this just be a case of him believing the open flame test is necessary? Well, the same person was a member of the scientific advisory committee of the National Association of State Fire Marshals from 2009-2013. Who funds the NASFM? Chemtura.
He is Professor David Purser and he is writing the official toxicology report for the Grenfell Inquiry. Now, you would think that the Inquiry would at least have questioned Professor Purser about his connections with an industry that stands to lose a lot of money if it's established that their products caused deaths in Grenfell Tower. Apparently not.
Last year, fed up with the Inquiry constantly ignoring my and others' attempts to get them to investigate flame retardants in furniture in the Grenfell fire, I managed to get a phone call with one of their lawyers, Cathy Kennedy. I explained that the Inquiry has totally ignored the Furniture Regs and she asked me to write a paper for Judge Moore-Bick (even though I and others had already done this of course), which I did. She also said that the Furniture Regs would be looked at in Phase 2, without explaining very convincingly why a) they didn't look at them in Phase 1 and b) why they hadn't told us before that this was the plan.
The agenda for Phase 2 has just been released by the Inquiry and it's perhaps no great surprise to see that there is no mention of the Furniture Regs or flame retardants. Given that these two factors are probably the key to the fire, this perhaps says something about who or what is actually controlling the Inquiry.
Anyway, in our phone conversation, I also asked Ms Kennedy if she was aware of David Purser's affiliations with the flame retardant industry. Rather than asking me for more information she accused me of "criticising" one of their appointed experts. Which suggests of course that they knew nothing about it.
I then wrote to Ms Kennedy about the Furniture Regulations but also reminding her about Prof. Purser's links with the flame retardant industry, offering to provide evidence. Someone else called Paul Edens replied to say:
"All expert witnesses appointed to the Inquiry are carefully checked to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest and that they are independent of Core Participants to the Inquiry."
I wrote back to Mr Edens, attaching to my email substantive evidence of Prof. Purser's links with the flame retardant industry. I explained again the importance of flame retardants in the Grenfell fire:
"In short, the flame retardant industry has a vested interest in playing down the toxicity of fires, because, as many studies show, their products contribute to them significantly. Last year, Matt Wrack of the FBU sacked his chief fire safety officer, Dave Sibert, for "colluding with the flame retardant industry," clearly recognising that such an association could inhibit the full truth, in this case, of the Grenfell fire and cancers in firefighters emerging."
I asked Mr Edens to study my evidence then inform me either that the Inquiry was aware of these connections and if so explain why they have decided they're not relevant, or to assure me that they will now investigate Prof. Purser more closely with a view to ensuring that the toxicology report on the Grenfell fire will be unbiased and factually correct.
This is Mr Edens' reply:
"Thank you for your further correspondence in relation to the links you are concerned Professor Purser has with the chemical industry.
"We have considered and investigated the concerns that you raised and found them to be without relevance or significance to his work as an expert on this Inquiry."
I and the people I work with have challenged this of course. In the meantime, why don't you make up your own minds? The evidence I sent them about Prof. Purser's links with the flame retardant industry can be accessed here.
In the meantime I wait, somewhat naively I suspect, for David Purser's Grenfell report to explain how the UK's open flame (match) test has been proved to not work and how therefore all those flame retardants in Grenfell Tower furniture did nothing other than make the fire more toxic.
19th February 2019
CHANNEL 4: DISPATCHES – DID THE FIRE BRIGADE FAIL?
In this piece, I want to raise an issue that Channel 4 failed to cover last night in relation to the Stay Put policy at the Grenfell Tower fire.
Overall, the programme didn't cover much ground that wasn't already known to anyone who has been paying attention for the past 19 months or so. They missed quite a few important details, too. For example, they didn't mention the role that MHCLG (then DCLG) played in not implementing the changes to building fire safety recommended by the coroner for the Lakanal House fire. If they'd investigated this, they would have found the common ground – indeed the common high-ranking people – between that fire and the Grenfell fire. But unfortunately, investigative journalism is not what it was and so we tend to only get the surface details in programmes like this; that and only the material and views that the broadcaster's lawyers are happy with.
But the subject that I want to look at, in connection with Stay Put, and which wasn't mentioned in last night's programme is toxic fumes (as opposed to smoke).
First, fire brigade operators are trained to ask callers at a fire if they can see flames or smell smoke. If not, they're told to stay put. Which is odd since the biggest killer in fires are toxic fumes – including hydrogen cyanide – which are invisible and odourless. These fumes travel through the slightest gaps in walls, flooring, under doors, through windows, etc. There are cases on record where people have died at the opposite end of very long buildings that were on fire at the other end because undetectable fumes had reached them.
So, when a tower block is on fire it seems rather pointless to ask if you can see or smell anything. The question is: are the apartments that are not on fire and the corridors joining them completely sealed against toxic fumes, which includes windows in the case of Grenfell Tower (for obvious reasons)? If they are, then perhaps you could advise they stay put. But it's questionable if any tower block in the country is completely safe against the spread of toxic fumes, and there were many indications that Grenfell Tower definitely was not.
If indeed a caller can see or hear fire/smoke, then obviously they need to vacate their apartment immediately. Whichever way you look at it, then, the safest course of action regarding killer toxic fumes would have been to get everyone out of Grenfell Tower as quickly as possible.
Second, why aren't toxic fumes considered in the fire brigade's advice to callers? Well, let's start with a fact: UK homes contain the largest source of potential toxic fumes in the world. This is because they contain the largest volumes of flame retardants which produce huge amounts of hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, etc, when they burn. It isn't really in the interests of those who make a lot of money from flame retardants for UK citizens to be aware of this. They might, quite naturally, complain and want something done to de-toxify their homes. Instead, the only talk is about the fire safety that flame retardants provide. Except that they clearly don't: just look at Grenfell Tower.
Or, another simple example. Last year, the BBC broadcast a programme, connected to Grenfell Tower, looking at the effectiveness of sprinklers. They made two identical mock-up bedrooms containing a mattress with bedding, a shirt hanging nearby and so on. They set light to the shirt which fell on to the bed and set light to the bedding. The comparison showed that the room with sprinklers would survive. However, the point where this argument is concerned, is that the room without sprinklers was totally aflame within three minutes. This despite the mattress being stuffed with huge volumes of flame retardant chemicals. Now, the flame retardant industry claims that its chemicals in furniture products like mattresses give you 12-14 minutes escape time (something it has to be said, however, they've never proved).
The only way this escape time would work is in this scenario: you drop a match – not a candle because that burns for too long – on to your mattress that isn't covered by any bedding. The flame retardants in the mattress cover fabric (which includes chemicals that have been banned from sheep dip because they're so toxic) should put it out within 20 secs. Which suggests, if you want to be safe from fire, you'd better not use any bedding, and best to sleep in the nude since clothing will catch fire too, of course.
In practice, flame retardants in mattresses are useless for preventing fire but add hugely to the volumes of toxic fumes when they burn and get into your bloodstream on a daily basis via your skin and breathing. Not something the industry is keen for you to know, for obvious reasons.
Why aren't we warned about this so that in case of fire we'll know to get out of our properties as fast as possible? Well, let's just say there is an awful lot of money in flame retardants. At a rough estimate, around £300m a year in UK furniture alone.
Third, there is a long history of the flame retardant industry financing key people in the fire services, usually in high up positions (where they can influence policy). The industry also works closely with insurers which funds for example the Fire Protection Association. The FPA has close relationships with fire service people who are known inside the sector to be in the pay of the flame retardant industry.
Speculation: given that it suits the needs of insurers and the flame retardant industry for people to believe that these chemicals will prevent fire, do they really want everyone to be immediately abandoning a building on fire?
Well, let's just say that the Fire Brigades Union's chief fire safety officer was a massive supporter of the Stay Put policy (see my recent blog post), insisting that it saved more lives in the Grenfell fire than would otherwise have been the case. The same person, that is, who played a large part in blocking proposed changes to the country's furniture flammability regulations which would have not only made our furniture fire-safe but hugely reduced the levels of flame retardants. This person was sacked by the FBU last year, although they haven't been very public about it – one wonders why.
In conclusion, Dispatches failed to identify that the main cause of death in Grenfell Tower was almost certainly toxic fumes, the vast majority of which were produced by burning flame retardants in furniture. Given that smoke/fire was clearly spreading through the inside of the building, then so were deadly toxic fumes, which means the best advice would have been to tell people to get out as soon as possible.
The programme did identify that individual fire fighters were not to blame; that the system they were ordered to follow was faulty. This is almost certainly true, but it could have looked more closely at why certain high-ranking people in the fire services might defend a policy which common sense says is largely unworkable.
9th January 2019
MHCLG WORKING TO CONCEAL THE FULL TRUTH OF THE TOXICITY OF THE GRENFELL FIRE
Below is an email I sent to the MHCLG Minister, James Brokenshire, on 16th September 2018. It calls for the resignation of Sir Ken Knight as chair of the independent panel of experts to the Grenfell Inquiry. I attached with it an 8-page document of evidence supporting this request, which was cleared by a lawyer working for Grenfell survivors.
Cabinet Office guidelines state that letters to Ministers will be answered within 20 working days. It's now 83 working days since I wrote but, despite two reminders, I have yet to receive a reply.
On 12th November 2018, I put in a request to MHCLG under the Freedom of Information Act, asking to see their internal correspondence concerning my letter; why the Minister had not answered; and when he would respond. On 10th December 2018, MHCLG replied thus:
(Request to see internal correspondence): "The Department neither confirms nor denies whether it holds the information you have requested."
(Why has the Minister not responded): No answer.
(When will he answer?): "The Department replies to correspondence within 20 working days." As said, it's now 83 working days without a response.
I put in an official complaint about this answer and on 8th January received MHCLG's response which states:
"The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has now concluded its internal review. It is my finding that the original decision, communicated to you in our response dated 10th December 2018, was correct."
In amongst a lot of waffle there is of course no evidence supplied to support this decision. This gave me flash-backs to my whistle-blowing case against BEIS where their decision was the same: "We are right because we said we were right."
Meanwhile, on 18th December 2018, MHCLG slipped out its response to the Hackitt Review: "Building a Safer Future: An Implementation Plan". It probably goes without saying that according to this document, all the government is planning to implement is in effect the monitoring of expert groups, and the gathering of information.
Given that this report relies heavily on input from Sir Ken's expert panel, it's perhaps not surprising that James Brokenshire has chosen to totally ignore the evidence that Sir Ken may not be as neutral in matters of fire safety as he should be.
The simple word for this kind of behaviour is corruption.
Rt Hon James Brokenshire
Secretary of State
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
16th September 2018
Attachment: ‘Executive Summary’
Dear Mr Brokenshire,
PROPOSED REMOVAL OF SIR KEN KNIGHT AS CHAIR OF THE INDEPENDENT EXPERT ADVISORY PANEL TO THE GRENFELL INQUIRY
I am writing to request that you consider the removal of Sir Ken Knight as Chair of the independent expert advisory panel that was established by your predecessor Sajid Javid to look into technical matters relating to the Grenfell Tower fire.
The reasons for requesting Sir Knight’s dismissal are: potential conflicts of interest; his role in suppressing the fact that toxic smoke was a major cause of death in the Grenfell Tower fire; and his leading role in blocking important safety changes to the UK’s Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (FFRs), the failures of which worsened the Grenfell fire. These arguments for Sir Ken’s removal are set out in more detail in the attached Executive Summary.
I am the country’s leading expert on the FFRs and everything written in this letter and the attached document is based on extensive records which I have access to. This request is fully endorsed by the Grenfell Fire Forum, a group of independent fire and buildings safety experts. I am also working with Grenfell survivors and their lawyers, who are extremely concerned about important contributory factors to the fire, such as toxic smoke, which are not being given sufficient attention by the official Inquiry.
Pivotal to this request is the fact that in 2014, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (now BEIS), published proof that the main ignition test in the FFRs fails in practice by up to 90%, and it proposed changes that would put the safety problems right as well as hugely reduce the volume of flame retardant chemicals in UK furniture. Sir Ken insisted that (unnecessary) extra work be undertaken on the proposals. The Minister agreed to his request but the work was never undertaken and Sir Ken has done nothing about the failing regulations ever since, despite being fully aware of the resultant risk to public safety.
Because of the FFRs, UK domestic furniture contains the highest levels of flame retardant chemicals in the world (around 30 - 50 kgs per dwelling). These chemicals are regularly banned because they are found to be harmful to human health but some of the worst kind remain in millions of UK sofas and mattresses. They are also fiercely toxic when they burn, for example producing large quantities of hydrogen cyanide quickly after ignition. In short, the FFRs do not provide fire safety and the presence of large volumes of flame retardants in UK furniture means every citizen is being poisoned on a daily basis, with children particularly vulnerable. Even if the FFRs were saving the number of lives as previously claimed, this is at the price of at least 6 million kgs of flame retardants in UK homes to save just one life.
There is documented evidence in the public domain that the flame retardant industry funds fire safety officials to promote their products. The behaviour of Sir Ken is certainly commensurate with those who support the use of flame retardants. At a conservative estimate, the value of flame retardant chemicals in domestic UK furniture is around £100m per year.
You may have noticed that the subject of toxic smoke from burning furniture has so far barely been raised or considered by the Inquiry/Hackitt Review/Expert Panel. I suggest that one reason for this is Sir Ken Knight's refusal to have the expert panel even look at the FFRs, despite me writing to him on more than one occasion to remind him of the dangers posed by these failing regulations (see the Executive Summary).
I respectfully suggest that Sir Ken Knight’s position is somewhat compromised and therefore urge you to remove him as Chair of the expert panel and encourage the remaining members to investigate the major role played by the FFRs in the Grenfell Tower fire. I am very willing to work with the panel to this end.
cc Sajid Jarvid, Home Secretary, Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
The Grenfell Fire Forum
Humanity for Grenfell
NEW SCIENCE ADVISORY GROUP TO LOOK INTO GOVERNMENT FAILINGS - SET UP BY GOVERNMENT
On 30th November, MHCLG announced it has set up a Science Advisory Group to review "potential environmental contamination in the vicinity of Grenfell and North Kensington":
The 'Overview' states:
"The Science Advisory Group (SAG) for the review of potential environmental contamination in the vicinity of Grenfell and North Kensington is chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. It covers both science and public health issues. It is constituted on a time-limited basis to provide science advice related to this review only. Its membership consists of subject experts independent of Her Majesty's Government. Its remit, membership and advice shall be publicly available. The chair will report to the Grenfell Ministerial Recovery Group."
Where the SAG is concerned, let's just remind ourselves of why it was set up, reluctantly and late (no mention of that by MHCLG of course). Information was leaked to the press about findings by a toxicologist, that soil around Grenfell Tower contained very high levels of hydrogen cyanide. Survivors and residents were understandably very concerned about this, especially since the Council and the government had said virtually nothing about this up to that point. A meeting was arranged on 29th October at which several hundred residents unanimously made it clear they wanted answers to how much they've been poisoned by the fire and its toxic aftermath.
In short, it has taken the government 17 months to set up a group to look into contamination from the Grenfell Tower fire. This despite the fact that every large fire has always produced contamination on a massive scale. This despite the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Public Health England declaring that there's no need to check for contamination because if any exists it will be at a 'low' level.
Right from the start, let's note that this group has been set-up with precisely no input from Grenfell survivors or residents. And, once again, all requests to have a representative sit on the board have been ignored.
Let's take a side-bar here. I wrote to the Inquiry, Dame Judith Hackitt and the Independent Experts panel about this very issue, and how burning furniture would have contributed large amounts of toxins to the fire. None of them replied. MHCLG administers these groups so I phoned the civil servant concerned, in this case to ask why the Hackitt Review had taken no interest at all in the failing Furniture Regulations and the large amounts of hydrogen cyanide they contributed to the fire. We had the classic circular conversation that civil servants are so good at which, essentially, began with him telling me that the Review had noted my points and will consider them if they believe it's important; then I point out why it's important, along with the small matter of facts and evidence, then he goes back to saying yes, we will consider it if . . . Later at an event I happen to bump into the senior MHCLG civil servant behind the Hackitt Review and ask him the same question. First, he says fire safety legislation was not in the Review's remit. I point out that it was, had been published as such by his own department; to which he says, "Ah, but we're now taking a broader view."
The wording in the Overview above demonstrates that as usual an assumption has been made by the establishment on our behalf, that anything the government does will automatically be in our best interests. But hang on a minute - isn't MHCLG one of the prime suspects regarding the Grenfell fire? Aren't they responsible for the building regulations which failed? Aren't they responsible for introducing the Fire Safety Order which hugely weakened the fire safety assessment procedures?
Yet they say, "[SAG's] membership consists of subject experts independent of Her Majesty's Government." Er, but Her Majesty's Government have appointed these people! It goes on to say, "Its remit, membership and advice shall be publicly available." This to me shows how civil servants have become almost arrogant with their sleight-of-hand statements; either that or they just think we're too thick to see through them. Yes, MHCLG, you're going to make the remit, membership and advice publicly available, but you haven't let the public have anything to do with the appointments and remit in the first place. Which is the bit that counts, obviously.
This is rather like the Mafia appointing its own judge, jury and terms of engagement. Sorry, that's a facile comparison because, as we all know, our government never works in its own self-interest.
One reason the establishment gets away with this kind of thing is because most people only see one or two examples, in the area they happen to know about. But in fact, it's a very common practice across the board of government and business interaction. The Inquiry itself is another example: the Chair is appointed and terms of reference established without any input at all from the victims of the fire. The government will or should be in the dock over Grenfell since they're responsible for weakening safety regulations which one way or another caused the fire. Yet the government appoints the Chair and everyone is supposed to believe their choice is made purely in the public interest.
On my blog page soon I'll discuss another specific example of how the government keeps putting business interests ahead of the public's.
Email Exchange with the Leader of the Council, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Extract from an email dated 31 October 2018:
“With regard to your address at the council meeting [17 October 2018], I wanted to thank you again for taking the time to come and speak at the meeting; I was very moved by your words. I was also sorry to hear of your concerns about the Public Inquiry and hope that they will respond positively to your letters. At the council meeting you were joined in the chamber by [ ], [ ] and Terry Edge, and with your permission I would like to share this email with them. Alternatively, could you please pass it on to them as I would also like to thank them for attending. Terry specifically spoke about furniture safety regulations: these regulations are set by central Government, and I hope Terry will make his concerns known to them. It will also be for the Public Inquiry to consider whether to include this in the scope of their work.”
Cllr Elizabeth Campbell
Leader of the Council The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea The Town Hall, Hornton Street, London W8 7NX
My commentary on this email:
The Council webcasts all its meetings. However, this particular meeting for 17 October 2018 (around 3 hours in total) has a missing section; to quote:
“Webcast of the Council meeting. we apologise that there is a gap in the footage of approximately 45mins, this was owing to a technical issue.”
This ‘gap’ just happens to include the section where three of us spoke about toxicity in the Grenfell fire, including a comment passed on by me from a leading toxicologist, that Public Health England is operating a ‘cover up’. I also raised the issue of the failing furniture regulations and the massive part they played in the fire.
In her email, Ms Campbell mentions that I talked about the furniture safety regulations but fails to include the fact that I’d said the government proved they don’t work. She then says these regulations are the responsibility of central government and that she hopes I’ve made my concerns known to them.
Let’s be clear about this: she’s essentially saying that she doesn’t want to know about the fire safety regulations that played a huge role in the fire that killed 72 of her constituents and poisoned thousands more. She’s leaving it to the government. Apart from anything else, you would expect a concerned Leader to have asked around about this issue; perhaps even checked my website – enough to want to at least investigate further. And if she had done so, she would of course be alarmed to discover that the government is sitting on this issue, leaving her people to be poisoned in their beds, literally.
Ms Campbell attended the meeting of hundreds of concerned residents on 29 October where a panel of experts and the Council’s CEO were meant to answer questions about the toxicity of the fire. They didn’t of course. She would have once again heard me raise the issue of the vast amounts of hydrogen cyanide and brominated dioxins created by flame retardants catching light in furniture and other products. She would have heard other residents also raise the question of poisoning from PBDEs and hydrogen cyanide. She would have – once again – heard large numbers of her constituents detailing the many illnesses they’ve been suffering from the fire.
But instead she passes off any remaining responsibility on her part to the Public Inquiry, stating that it’s up to them to consider whether to include the issue of the furniture regulations in the scope of their work. Well, I’m pretty sure she’s already discovered that the Inquiry so far as been dodging the issue of furniture and toxicity; therefore, she’s pretty safe in making this suggestion.
Again, let’s be clear: Ms Campbell knows that failed safety legislation added considerably to the most toxic domestic fire in UK history that happened on her patch. Her reaction is to in effect state, “Nothing to do with me, mate.”
This, unfortunately, is standard practice for officials these days. While they’re expressing their concerns over a serious illness one of their citizens has incurred since the fire, they’re ensuring that they get out with nothing on their to do list and crucially with no liability acknowledged. Here’s what she said at the start of her email:
“I am very sorry to hear that you have been admitted to hospital and I hope you are receiving the care and support you need.”
Which may or may not be a genuine expression of sympathy. What is genuine, of course, is the complete lack of any intention to get to the bottom of what caused the illness in the first place (passing that off, once again, to the Inquiry). “I hope . . . “ is not what you need to hear from the Leader of your Council but it’s a statement that lawyers can live with.
Below is my email to Ms Campbell (no reply so far, as of 19 November).
Email dated 2 November 2018:
Thank you for asking [ ] to copy me in to your email to her.
You raise the issue of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 and I would like to provide you with further information about them, especially since they played such a large part in causing deaths in Grenfell Tower, damaging the health of survivors and nearby residents, and are currently damaging the health of every citizen in your borough, as well as maintaining a future toxic fire risk to all your tower blocks, with or without external cladding.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) proved in 2014 that these regulations mostly do not work; that they do not in fact prevent furniture from catching fire. However, the chemical industry and other businesses succeeded in delaying the safety changes the Department had proposed. In 2016, under pressure from the press and green/cancer prevention groups, BEIS went out to consultation again, once more confirming that the regulations do not work and proposing the same safety solution as before. They have yet to even respond to this consultation, however, let alone put the safety changes in place.
Meanwhile, not only are UK sofas, mattresses and child furniture unsafe from fire, they are also highly toxic. This is because very large amounts of flame retardant chemicals are used to meet the requirements of the Regulations (even though they do not work). I was dismayed, therefore, to hear Barry Quirk at Monday’s meeting claim that you have no evidence of hydrogen cyanide sources in the Grenfell fire. It is well known that when flame retardants burn, they produce large volumes of hydrogen cyanide. Anna Stec has confirmed this in at least two ways: by her findings in Grenfell soil samples and via her paper published in Chemosphere in December 2017 (which I contributed to). This paper was based on extensive testing work that revealed how UK sofas/mattresses produce high levels of toxic fumes, including CO2 and hydrogen cyanide, very soon after igniting. I also had two meetings with Barry last year at which I fully explained to him the situation with burning furniture and how it will have produced high levels of hydrogen cyanide in the Grenfell Tower.
I have of course made my concerns know to BEIS, as have plenty of others; however, the government remains unable to act, for whatever reason. The All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue group has been urging BEIS to bring in the safety changes. Ronnie King of the APPG, recently informed the BEIS Minister, Lord Henley, that UK fire chiefs believe that the toxic nature of UK furniture (because of the Regulations) is a more important issue than any fire safety they are supposed to provide. Their concern extends not just to citizens but also to firefighters who are realising they suffer higher levels of cancer than normal, almost certainly due to their exposure to toxic fire fumes on a continual basis. It may interest you to learn that Anna Stec has just taken up a commission to investigate cancers in UK firefighters.
The Countess of Mar, along with Cancer Prevention UK and myself, is also currently pressing BEIS to put right these Regulations. She Mar has a personal interest in flame retardants. While working as a farmer, she accidently trod in sheep dip containing organo-phosphate flame retardants. As a result she became very ill. Organo-phosphates were later banned from agricultural products like sheep dip because they’re so toxic. The Countess, therefore, was horrified to discover that the same chemicals are used in UK mattresses and sofas, including children’s.
Given that the failing furniture regulations played a large part in the deaths and subsequent illnesses of residents in Grenfell Tower, and that they continue to represent a serious health and fire risk to everyone in your borough, I am sure you will want to press BEIS personally to put them right. I would be very happy to brief you for any meetings you may arrange either with the BEIS Minister or their officials or both, and attend with you should that be helpful. I’m sure that Grenfell residents’ representatives would also be happy to attend. At the very least, I’m sure you will want to discover if BEIS has any answers or solutions to a situation that has put every household in your borough and the rest of the country at risk.
I appreciate that much of this information may be new to you. I would be very happy therefore to meet with you and other members of the Council to bring you up to speed. Although I retired in 2016 from BEIS, I believe that I am still the country’s leading expert on the furniture regulations and therefore will be able to answer any questions you may have about them.
Well, perhaps not surprisingly, there was no reply from Ms Campbell. So on 27 November, I sent her this email:
This email is for the record and possible future evidence. It notes that you have taken the deliberate move of not responding to the offer to discuss one of the major contributors to the Grenfell Tower fire. This therefore represents a confirmation that you have decided that you do not want to know; that you are not going to do anything about it; not even to receive more information. You have taken the coward’s way out in not responding instead of having the decency to at least be honest about your position.
Both you and Theresa May have vowed to “leave no stone unturned” regarding the Grenfell Tower fire. Well, here’s a massive boulder that you are simply pretending doesn’t exist.
All of which means, of course, that your expressions of sympathy towards the relatives of those who died and to those who are suffering a wide range of illnesses because of the toxicity of the fire are nothing more than PR tokens offered purely in order to protect your position.
The biggest shame in this, however, is that you had the chance to actually do something but chose not to.
MEETING TO DISCUSS TOXICITY OF THE GRENFELL FIRE, HILTON HOTEL, KENSINGTON, 29 OCTOBER 2018 – PART TWO – THE THREE Ps: PENSIONS AND PROFITS BEFORE PEOPLE
Watching the panel perform was like being back in the civil service. The only mystery – and it’s not a particularly important one – was how much of their avoidance of responsibility was conscious or simply mechanical?
The day before the meeting, I had a long conversation with a civil servant friend. He’s an expert in his field, has chaired international events and written papers, well known for his knowledge and insight. But he told me he’s probably going to retire early, simply because he’s fed up with how the civil service has gone. His department has no plans to replace his expertise or even to capture his knowledge. This is by no means unusual. I was an expert on the UK’s furniture flammability regulations but when I left two years or so ago, I was replaced by someone who recently revealed she does not even know that these regulations are based on British Standards.
My friend summed it up: he said, there are still some good people in the civil service but they’re swamped by others who don’t care and who don’t want to do any work or take any responsibility, being managed by senior civil servants obsessed with what they call “higher priorities” that when looked at closely appear to be little more than attending a never-ending string of internal meetings. And looming over them all is the leaden need to preserve one’s pension at all costs.
When you put pension-preservers in charge of public safety regulations which, if improved will cost a lot of money, then you get the depressing spectacle of a panel of people tasked with answering sick people’s worries about just how ill they might be, doing nothing other than stonewalling, lying, claiming ignorance and generally offering nothing positive at all.
And so it was a textbook example of how to ‘deal’ with around 500 people who are genuinely, with good reason, worried that they may have serious illnesses that could lead to a disabled future and/or a shortened life. Here are just a few examples of the techniques of avoidance displayed by the panel.
The panel were informed by several of the audience that many if not all survivors/residents of the Grenfell fire have illnesses, many serious – including the almost ubiquitous ‘Grenfell cough’. I’ve seen this myself: I attended two meetings of residents recently and at both of them everyone present reported symptoms of illnesses that correspond strongly with the kinds of toxins and dioxins that are created from large fires.
Public Health England Regional Director Yvonne Doyle responded to this by saying that there would have been pre-existing health conditions which under stress [the fire] could become worse. In other words: it’s all in your own heads and it’s all your own fault. The audience was not impressed with this and made their feelings known, not that it had any effect on Ms Doyle. She maintained this view throughout along with another shared by the rest of the panel: to the many people who in different ways asked why no soil samples have been taken and analysed, the answer was because there was nothing to look for; that any contamination was ‘low’ and/or part of the usual historical contamination of London soil
This view was of course completely contradicted by two statements made by the panel itself:
1. That they have spoken to Anna Stec and will be working with her but – and here came the arse-covering qualification – Anna Stec has failed to provide them with her data, so what can they do? This by the way is classic false conflation by officials. Yes, they have spoken to Anna Stec but if you read the handout provided at the meeting it states, “. . . met Anna Stec earlier this year” (my emphasis). In other words, they knew back in February, as reported in the press, that Stec had found high levels of hydrogen cyanide in the Grenfell soil. The obvious question being: why have they done nothing since? Barry Quirk, CEO of RBKC, actually stated that they were unaware of any sources of hydrogen cyanide in the fire, which is another convoluted lie because, a) Stec has found lots of it which apparently has led to the council/government finally agreeing to take soil samples, b) he should know from even a casual internet search that the tower was stuffed full of furniture, carpets, bedding etc packed with flame retardants that produce high levels of hydrogen cyanide when they burn. He could have learned this easily enough from many sources, including Stec’s own paper published in Chemosphere in December 2017 and c) more to the point, I had two lengthy meetings with Quirk earlier this year at which I fully informed him of the large amounts of hydrogen cyanide that the fire produced.
2. The fact, as said, that MHCLG has just announced that it has commissioned the Environment Agency to undertake an analysis of Grenfell soil. Why do this if it isn’t necessary. Was anyone from the Environment Agency present at this meeting? Of course not because that would remove the option – frequently taken by the panel – of being able to say “Don’t know”, “The Environment Agency needs to set up its programme” etc, whenever anyone asked when this was going to take place and how long it will take. Another variant on this – often employed by the civil service – is to appoint new people (in this case Paul Nathanail and Dr Rupert Lewis) who can then say, “I’m new; don’t know anything yet.”
Still on Yvonne Doyle: there was a very telling moment when someone asked the panel a question about the presence of PBDEs in the tower. Doyle was seen turning to ask the person to her right, “What’s a PBDE?” This was noted by many and rightly so. Let’s be clear about this: here’s the ‘expert’ who’s continually been informing everyone present that any toxic risk is low, yet she doesn’t even know about what would have been a massive source of toxins in the fire. PBDEs are in effect brominated flame retardant chemicals. They are regularly banned or heavily restricted because they are potentially very damaging to human health and are persistent in the environment.
Here is some headline information about PBDEs from the Canadian government’s website:
· PBDEs are human-made chemicals used in flame-retardants. They do not occur naturally.
· Burning household goods releases PBDEs into the atmosphere.
· PBDEs accumulate in the food chain, biomagnify and are persistent.
· PBDEs have been found in Arctic mammals.
· Despite a European ban on PBDEs, in 1998 there were 40 times more PBDEs in the
environment of Sweden than there had been in 1972.
· North American women have PBDE levels 40 times greater than concentrations found in
· Canada banned the use of the most toxic PBDE compound (penta-PBDE) in 2005.
· Scientists warn environmental contamination by PBDEs is doubling every five years.
· PBDEs are monitored in the Yukon and are below Health Canada guidelines.
Note the second bullet point. UK homes have the highest levels of flame retardant chemicals in the world, largely because of our furniture flammability regulations – which, as has been detailed on this site – our own government has proved do not even work! When furniture/carpets/bedding etc burn they ‘release PBDEs into the atmosphere’. This means that the Grenfell fire would have been the most toxic domestic fire in UK history. But it’s okay, according to Doyle their air monitors found nothing in the Grenfell air other than a couple of asbestos fibres. How strange – where did all those dioxins go? Eventually (and after similar denials of toxins by the US’s Environmental Protection Agency), it was established that very high levels of brominated dioxins were produced by the Twin Towers diaster – to date, around 37,000 people have been diagnosed with serious illnesses, including respiratory problems, digestive conditions and cancers, or all of them. But according to Doyle none of this happened at Grenfell so everyone’s okay. What’s a PBDE again?
The UK is signed up to the Stockholm Convention which recently banned several flame retardants which exist in most if not all UK upholstered furniture, yet Defra has done nothing, either to ban such furniture or at least to warn the public. When the Defra civil servants responsible were questioned about this recently, their first reaction was to say that we don’t know what chemicals are in furniture and it’s only small amounts anyway. When the questioner assured them that we do know what chemicals are in furniture and we know they’re present in large amounts, their second response was to say that if the UK public became aware of this, they might panic and dump their sofas and mattresses, thereby adding those chemicals to the environment.
The question I put to the panel was prefaced by informing them that the tower was full of large volumes of flame retardant chemicals which when burn turn into brominated dioxins, which are very toxic. Dioxins in a fire also form a unique ‘fingerprint’, which means they need to be tested in order to have something to compare against. I also said that they need to test air, water, soil, debris and blood. Remarkably perhaps, Paul Nathanail, the independent soil expert (although I discovered later that his company has done quite a bit of paid work for the Environment Agency – which doesn’t sound too independent, considering he’s presumably going to be commenting on their work on Grenfell soil) said that they will test for brominated dioxins. However, he qualified this with the usual circular argument in saying that they will only test blood, say, if there is something there to test for. I’m not kidding: this was a common response from the panel: there isn’t anything to test for, which is why we haven’t tested, but if there is, then we’ll test.
Plenty more to say but I’ll leave it here for now.
MEETING TO DISCUSS TOXICITY OF THE GRENFELL FIRE, HILTON HOTEL, KENSINGTON, 29 OCTOBER 2018 – PART ONE
At the meeting last night, I spoke about the cover-up in operation over the Grenfell fire and related issues. Because there were so many people present, there was not much time to frame our questions, and I thought it might be useful to fill out mine a little more.
1. I am the country’s leading expert on the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 but was forced out of the job in 2016 for bringing a whistle-blowing case against the government. In short, the government itself had proven in 2014 that these regulations do not work and are not therefore protecting us from fire.
2. The Grenfell Tower fire was the most toxic domestic fire in UK history. Here’s why.
3. Current UK homes contain the highest levels of flame retardant chemicals in the world. These chemicals are highly toxic and leach out of products into house dust, then into us, e.g. UK human breast milk contains the highest levels of flame retardants (including the brominated variety) in the world. The two main sources of flame retardants in our home are: a) the requirements of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations – leading to around 30-50 kgs per household; but these do not work! b) items such as bedding, curtains, carpets – even though there are no flammability requirements for them (the flame retardant industry works closely with the insurance industry to badger producers into using flame retardants to avoid being sued in case of fire).
4. When these chemicals burn they are very toxic indeed, producing very high levels of toxic fumes such at hydrogen cyanide. One of the panellists last night stated that hydrogen cyanide levels were very low in the fire. That is a lie, e.g. Anna Stec’s early findings (quoted in the press) were that she found high levels of hydrogen cyanide in the soil.
5. Brominated flame retardants produce brominated dioxins when they burn. Dioxins are damaging to health, e.g. they are endocrine disrupters and probably carcinogenic. Very high levels of brominated dioxins were discovered around the 9/11 Twin Towers disaster (which did not by the way stem from cement powder as claimed by Public Health England last night). There are around 37,000 people so far found to have serious health issues resulting from 9/11, numbers still rising.
6. It’s necessary to test for dioxins/brominated dioxins since these will produce the unique ‘fingerprint’ of the Grenfell fire – which other testing will not necessarily provide. That fingerprint can then be used to compare with similar London tower block situations, say, that did not suffer a fire. Without this, the danger is that any government-sponsored analysis of soil/air, etc, will conclude that contamination is ‘historical’, ‘normal’, and so on.
7. Testing for dioxins should cover: air, soil, debris, water and blood.
8. So the cover-up, essentially, is over the fact that this fire was more toxic than it needed to be, because of the very high levels of flame retardants in our homes that aren’t even necessary. The government – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – has failed to put right the Furniture Regulations with the result that everyone in the country is being literally poisoned while they sleep, children particularly vulnerable. Industry has known this for at least 4 years but continues to profit from flame retardants. No other country in the world insists on its people breathing in high levels of flame retardant dust on a daily basis and suffering highly toxic fumes in fires. California, for example, has just banned all flame retardants from all furniture. The rest of the EU does not allow them in furniture. If the full truth of this gets out, the government could be sued on multiple fronts and industry will lose billions.
7th September 2018
THE ESTABLISHMENT IS PROBABLY WINNING
The following is based on my view of how the Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire is proceeding. It is far from exhaustive but may have some unique or less common touch-points to give anyone with an open mind a perhaps different perspective. It has been built up partly from a year’s experience working with the Grenfell Fire Forum, a group of independent experts. We have been invited to many meetings with various industry and public safety groups. We’ve appeared many times on the television and radio, usually presenting alternative views to the mainstream. We also have close working relationships with three of the Grenfell survivors’ groups. However, we have been totally ignored by the Inquiry establishment.
Personally, I have also been through four years of fighting the establishment over the issue of the failing furniture fire safety regulations. This included undertaking a Civil Service Code complaint and a whistle-blowing case against the government department I worked for. This experience has given me a pretty good insight into how the establishment in this country controls outcomes under the guise of ‘democracy’.
With my whistle-blowing case, for example, what happened was this: my own department (which in effect the case was against) appointed the case officer. They told me she was neutral, independent, not a member of the department and so on. But the fact is, they appointed her. And as the case progressed it became very clear to me that she was never going to work against the senior managers in her department and mine who had appointed her in the first place. In short, she was part of the same establishment that they were. Sounds familiar? Well, of course Theresa May appointed Sir Martin Moore-Bick as Chair of the Grenfell Inquiry, insisting that he was neutral, independent, etc. Then, Moor-Bick did exactly the same thing that my case officer did: established limiting terms of reference.
Now, from a distance, it might seem obvious that I should have protested, and similarly so the Grenfell survivors. Well, actually, in both cases we did. However, at the start of a case/Inquiry, you are still inclined to believe that you will receive a fair hearing and you don’t want to show too much ill-will by protesting what on the surface seems to be reasonable actions by the authorities. And in the case of Grenfell, residents of course also were dealing with huge degrees of grief, confusion, lack of basic needs such as a roof over their heads and so forth.
After I saw the familiar pattern established at the start of the Grenfell Inquiry, I suspected that subsequent patterns would also appear. For example, my whistle-blowing case officer (and Civil Service Code officer) spent a long period ‘interviewing’ people. I use inverted commas because when I finally saw the interview transcripts, it was clear that all she’d done was record their responses to her generally vague questions. Never once did she challenge them, even when I’d already provided her with testimony and evidence that contradicted much of what they said. Now, it seems to me that the same so far has gone on with the Grenfell Inquiry: months of the Inquiry solicitor pretty much just asking people questions and recording the answers. No one yet has been challenged in any significant way. But the establishment can point to the daily videocasts, the working groups and the public meetings as ample evidence that “something is being done”.
Then there is the subtle (and not so subtle) omission and ignoring of witnesses who may raise awkward questions, counter to the mainstream narrative (I’ll come back to narrative later). In my whistle-blowing case, despite my constant requests, the case officer did not ever interview anyone working outside of the department. There were dozens of people in industry, the enforcement authorities, fire services, etc, who, if interviewed would almost certainly have supported at least some of my claims. Solution? Don’t interview them. When challenged on this, the reply invariably was that we didn’t feel we needed to. Same as the Grenfell Inquiry? Well, anyone reading this blog will know that every member of the Grenfell Fire Forum has been ignored, e.g. as Core Participants to the Inquiry, from all of Dame Judith Hackitt’s working groups; and our evidence has similarly been completely ignored, e.g. by the so-called independent panel of experts to the Grenfell Inquiry.
Another, more subtle but very influential, control mechanism of the establishment is to control the narrative. They are very aware that whoever gets in first their story of an event, controls people’s perceptions of it. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about how the flame retardant industry and its supporters – in government, the fire services, universities and related industries – on the very day Grenfell tower was burning, established the narrative that the fire was all about cladding and not about furniture. So much so, that a year later when our Forum was being interviewed on LBC radio and I was asked about my area of concern, and I talked about the important role burning furniture played in the fire, the host said, “I’ve never heard of that.”
With my whistle-blowing case, the narrative was this: the Minister received two sets of advice/information and chose one over yours. This cleverly blames the Minister, of course, who was not present to defend herself but it also ignores a crucial point: given that the two sets of advice presented to her were in direct opposition, then clearly one or both sets were wrong. But the narrative implies they were both right; she just happened to choose A over B. The truth was that I had provided all the evidence to show that my advice was correct. The others had had to do nothing other than set out their opinions which were then recorded, unchallenged, as alternative ‘facts’.
My case was scheduled to take 40 working days. In the event, it took over eight months, and even then was only concluded because the Sunday Times came knocking on the department’s door. This stretching out of things is deliberate. The establishment knows that the longer you take over something, the more that people’s attention and patience fade. This is clearly happening now over Grenfell with articles, videocasts and so forth from observers stating they are sick of hearing about it. I’ve been told that the government might be about to cut funding to some or many of the survivors’ solicitors – a move that will seem reasonable of course to all those who think it’s being going on too long and at the taxpayers’ expense.
We heard last week that the survivors have only been shown 7% of the material the Inquiry has amassed. To summarise around this point: the government stated at the time that no stone would go unturned in getting to the truth about the Grenfell fire but so far, the survivors have been all but excluded from proceedings and fed only scraps of information. In the meantime, absolutely no actions have been taken either to provide the truth of what happened or to punish those responsible. Indeed, much of the truth of what happened is being suppressed – perhaps the greatest example being that which actually killed most of the victims: toxic smoke.
So, the establishment is in charge, pretty much, at least for now. This is the same establishment – in the form of the government and the local authority – that did absolutely nothing to help the victims for many days after the fire. It was the residents and the wider community who rushed to help and who organised food, shelter and clothing for the victims. Yet it is the establishment that set up the Inquiry and is running it!
I was speaking to a Grenfell survivor the other day and we agreed that what should have happened was that right at the start the survivors and local residents told the government that theywere setting up the Inquiry; then those responsible for the fire would be summoned and required to provide answers. Of course, it’s entirely understandable why this didn’t happen. Unfortunately, however, these cases are never as balanced as you’re led to believe; in truth, it’s either/or – either the people are in control or the establishment is, and the establishment rarely ever works in favour of the people.
The Inquiry has just started up again, after the summer break. My feeling is that this secondary stage will be decisive. From the establishment’s point of view, they’ll be hoping to maintain the illusion that something is being done while the wider world, and perhaps even some of the residents, lose interest or give up on the truth ever emerging. Which means this is the phase when those who are determined to see the truth revealed, and those responsible to be punished, summon up that long-term determination, courage and attitude of “We’re not taking this crap any longer” which will be necessary to succeed. I’m still optimistic.
31st July 2018
The Grenfell Fire Forum's response to the Dame Judith Hackitt review's final report (published in May 2018) can be accessed here.
The Review makes no mention at all of toxic smoke. The Forum finds this omission very disappointing, especially since around 80% of all fire deaths are from smoke inhalation and evidence suggests that much of the smoke in the Grenfell fire was toxic, e.g. contained large volumes of hydrogen cyanide; and that crucially much of this smoke was due to faulty fire safety legislation.
The Forum is also concerned that the Review fails to mention fire-stopping (other than as a vague recommendation that it says should be the residents’ responsibility). The poor fire-stopping measures in Grenfell Tower would have allowed toxic smoke – which can be odourless and colourless – to travel around the building, killing without warning.
In short, the Forum finds the Review to be totally remiss in failing to even mention that many deaths in the fire were caused by the combination of furniture that produced large volumes of toxic smoke and inadequate fire-stopping measures. This fact, of course, places the fire brigade’s “Stay Put” advice under serious question.
19th July 2018
On 15th May, BEIS issued this press release:
The Office of Product Safety and Standards (part of BEIS) was given the task of investigating the fridge-freezer type that is alleged to have started the Grenfell Tower fire, to see if a recall was necessary. The press release states:
“The investigation into the fridge freezer Hotpoint FF175B model identified by the Metropolitan Police as being involved in the Grenfell Tower fire has confirmed there is no need for a product recall or any other corrective action, and that consumers can continue using the product as normal.”
However, they give no specific details of this “investigation”.
On 20thMay, a leading fire safety organisation wrote to BEIS/OPSS, asking:
“ . . . it would be useful to learn the names and positions held by those forming the expert technical panel, and what specific factors convinced them that despite 72 people having died as a consequence of this fire, the product remains safe to use?”
BEIS/OPSS has not replied.
It could just be that underpinning this investigation is BEIS/OPSS’s need to keep attention off products that caught fire in Grenfell Tower, given that they are responsible for the fact that furniture is more flammable and more toxic than it should be.
Below is an FOI request sent to BEIS on 19th July 2018. It may well be, of course, that they will come straight back with the details asked for and their failure to reply to the fire sector’s request was just an oversight. We’ll see.
Dear Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy,
Regarding your press release of 15 May 2018, "Independent investigation finds no further action required on fridge freezer model":
a) Who are the "independent technical experts" BEIS commissioned to examine the unit?
b) When did they meet to examine the unit?
c) Where is the documented evidence of their findings?
Terry Edge for the Grenfell Fire Forum
Even an hour before the ceremony was due to start, there were a lot of camera people on the streets. On the way to meet the others from the Forum, I passed one of the Grenfell ghouls - a self-professed fire/buildings safety expert who has appeared on TV and in the press several times, pronouncing about what should and shouldn't be done. When we looked into his credentials, we couldn't find any. He's been shunned by the Grenfell community, mainly because it was very clear to everyone that he's touting for work/status/fame on the back of the tragedy. Clearly, he has no shame although, as it turned out, he wasn't able to access the event because he didn't qualify for an entry wristband.
The ceremony, under the shadow of the tower, was incredibly moving; simple and heartfelt; a few songs from a fabulous local gospel choir, some readings and, most powerful of all, the names of the dead read aloud, with everyone chanting, "Forever in our hearts" at regular intervals. Afterwards, reporters were finding it hard to interview anyone since most were more concerned with making sure their friends and family were okay. In case it's been lost on anyone, this really is a community, and taking an hour to get from A to B thirty yards away because there are so many people to talk to kind of is the point. And it wasn't until I saw it on the TV news later that I learned Adele and Stormzy were there. No one was making any fuss of them and it seemed they were there purely to offer their respects.
It wasn't appropriate, in the midst of such a united yet diverse community, so I suppressed the feeling until later but I felt angry again at how the government and the council, despite what they say, reduces victims to numbers and a situation that has to be managed. I don't think I've ever felt such contempt for a politician as when Theresa May, a few days before the one-year anniversary of Grenfell, wrote a piece in the Evening Standard about how sorry she was that she hadn't been around more in the early days of the tragedy; how she realised this made it look like the government didn't care. But it did. Of course it did, Theresa, that's why you waited nearly a year, until the best possible PR moment, to tell us so.
Sadiq Khan was there for quite some time, spending time with anyone who wanted to talk to him. Which was good, I suppose, but when one of the Forum asked him what he thought about corruption in the construction industry, he said there wasn't any!
The second-in-command official from MHCLG was there, too. His Department is, of course, responsible for buildings and most fire safety regulations. When I was working on the furniture fire safety regulations I had many meetings with DCLG (as it was then) officials. They weren't however too pro-active. As far as they were concerned, they'd done what was asked of them in implementing the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. They were never too keen, after that, to do much about the many inconsistencies and grey areas inherent in the FSO. Some of which contributed to the Grenfell fire one way or another. Anyway, one of the Forum approached this guy after the ceremony had finished and everyone was talking about all sorts of things. He wanted to discuss building regulations but Mr MDLC did not want to, stating that this was not the "appropriate time" to do so. Anyone who's been following our attempts to get BEIS to talk about the failings of the furniture regs will know that there never is an appropriate time for responsibility-dodging civil servants.
Before the ceremony started four of us spoke for about twenty minutes on LBC's James O'Brien show. It was good to have the opportunity to raise issues which the Inquiry and the Hackitt Review have been downplaying or ignoring all together. James O'Brien asked me what my specialty was so I talked about the furniture regulations; how burning upholstered furniture contributed the most toxic smoke to the fire and therefore probably the most deaths. He looked surprised and asked me why this wasn't better known. "Money," I replied, talking about the vast loads of dosh there is in flame retardants, and how the UK furniture industry profits from the trade barrier the regs represents, which is why they don't want them changed even though in their present state they're dangerous and poisoning us all. He'd asked us earlier if we thought there was a lot of dodging of responsibility going on so I told him about the conversation I'd had with Dame Hackitt a couple of days previously. After the microphones were turned off he asked me more about the furniture regs and I told him it was a massive scandal that plenty of people were desperate to conceal; causing deep divisions in the FBU, for example.
I gave an interview to two guys from Dose of Society, for a documentary they were making about Grenfell. It was great to meet two young people who, in the best possible way, are more like grumpy old men in their (healthy) disrespect for the establishment. They wanted me to talk about cladding which I did as far as my knowledge allows. But I also pointed out that cladding is being used as a deflection device, to keep attention off of furniture. I understand why, in a short documentary that has to follow a narrative theme, they eventually cut my pieces on furniture but it's still a little disappointing.
As I've said before on this site, the Grenfell Fire Forum can see how powerful business interests have succeeded (so far - signs are that such interests may start clashing soon, in the Inquiry, which hopefully will release more of the real truth) in convincing the entire country that only burning cladding contributed to the fire in any significant way.
However, the truth is that so far we only know for certain that burning furniture definitely contained a lot of toxic flame retardants (around 30 kgs per flat), that have been proved to produce highly toxic smoke when they burn. It hasn't even been established whether or not the cladding contained any flame retardants. Even if it did, the relative volumes per flat were much higher from furniture than cladding.
But someone established very early on that only cladding was the real villain. On the day of the fire itself, a surgeon - Dr Malcolm Tunnicliff - appeared all over the newspapers claiming a) that the victims he'd been sent did not need to be given anti-cyanide treatment because they hadn't suffered cyanide poisoning, and b) you only get toxic smoke from 'old' (pre-Furniture Regulations) furniture. The opposite, of course, is true: while pre-Regulations furniture was toxic when it burned, modern furniture is at least three times more toxic. But his comments, along with other experts talking only about cladding, has done the job: everyone believes cladding kills; hardly anyone is talking about furniture.
Two of the Grenfell Fire Forum attended an event at the Royal Institute of British Architects to discuss relevant issue around the Grenfell fire. One of us was speaking later but the opening, keynote, speech was given by Dame Judith Hackitt. This focussed entirely on her recent report into fire and buildings safety legislation. She didn't do much other than cover the same ground the report does but I found it interesting when she unfavourably compared the ethics of the construction industry with the industry she used to be in: interesting, first, because she didn't actually name it; but I will: the chemical industry. Second, because it's very hard to call the behaviour of the flame retardant branch of the chemical industry 'ethical'. All over the world, the FR industry pays key officials to support its products, even or especially those who in doing so are putting the public and their own workers at risk. The industry regularly releases highly toxic products on to the market claiming they aren't then just shrugging its shoulders when the US government or REACH or the Swedish who simply say "No", prove that they very much are and will continue to poison humans and wildlife and the environment for countless years to come. The fact she sees this kind of behaviour as ethical is enough on its own to question her impartiality where overseeing legislation that provides lucrative markets for chemicals is concerned.
Anyway, it got to Q&A time and Dame Judith perhaps unwisely pointed to me. My question was along these lines:
"Given that the majority of deaths in Grenfell Tower were from toxic smoke; and given that burning upholstered furniture provided the majority of toxic smoke; and given that the government proved four years ago that the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations mostly don't work, why is that you, your Review and the experts panel have ignored every attempt to get you to look at these failing regulations?"
Dame Judith looked somewhat startled by this question. Then she began to answer along the lines that she'd mentioned earlier - that her task was to look more at the overall system of fire safety than specific issues. But, presumably deciding that this wouldn't quite wash, instead she changed tack, along the lines of:
"My report doesn't cover everything that we worked on. BEIS is looking at the problems with those particular regulations."
To which I said, "Well, we met BEIS a couple of weeks ago and it's clear they aren't doing anything to put these regulations right."
At which point, the microphone was taken away from me.
In fact, what BEIS told us at out meeting with them - after confirming that they had had NO communication with the Hackitt Review about the Furniture Regs - was that it was up to the Inquiry/Review to decide what to do about these Regulations!
So, in effect, BEIS is saying it has not told the Hackitt Review about the failing Furniture Regs; yet Dame Hackitt herself clearly knows they're responsible for them. Who is lying? One of them is. The point being that no one is taking responsibility for the regulations which cover the items that led to the most deaths in the Grenfell tragedy. Not only that, but both sides of the Review equation are covering themselves, possibly at the expense of the other. We'll see.
Extract from a meeting with BEIS to discuss the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 in relation to Grenfell Tower
Here you'll find a transcription of part of a meeting two of us from the Grenfell Fire Forum had with two officials at BEIS on 3 May 2018. I genuinely took this extract at random. Part of the reason being that over a two-hour meeting, we could not get the officials to answer the first basic question about the state of these regulations; therefore, wherever I took an extract you'll find the same combination of obfuscation, evasion, ignorance and outright lying.
We arrived there with a potential solution to the hole that BEIS has dug for itself. Which is that four years ago it proved the current match test in the regulations mostly doesn't work. But since then it has delayed making changes, initially under pressure from industry (who would lose out financially with the new safety measures) and then later also with the added pressure that they were now trapped by their own inaction, i.e. implementing the changes would raise the issue of them having kept the entire British public at risk for four years.
That question is, essentially: "Do you agree that BEIS's own scientific published evidence proves that the current match test in the regulations fails in up to 90% of cases, confirmed by Trading Standards' findings in the field, and therefore that the majority of UK sofas are unsafe?"
The context for this meeting is relevant to Grenfell Tower. Because these regulations do not work, and because they have not been changed, far more toxic smoke was generated in the Tower (from burning furniture) than should have been the case.
In the extract, you'll see that BEIS has not even informed the Inquiry or the Hackitt Review about these key but failing fire safety regulations that played a significant role in the Grenfell fire.
In other words, it appears as if the comfortability of these officials is more important to them than the survivors of the Grenfell fire discovering the full truth about how their friends and family died.
Incidentally, 'DM' has been in charge of these regulations for nearly two years. She is, as she told us, working on the 2016 consultation responses (BEIS still hasn't responded to it). However, I mentioned two key elements of the regulations that would need to be worked on in these deliberations and she didn't even know what they were.
DM promised to answer our question in writing after the meeting. However, she still has not done so, despite three reminders from us.
22nd May 2018
A colleague in the Grenfell Fire Forum said to me today that the solution to the problems raised by the tower fire pretty much lies in just putting three things right:
To that, I might add:
Okay, nothing is 'just like that' but so far none of the above has been achieved or even discussed by the official enquiry or the Hackitt Review.
Last night the BBC's Panorama aired an 'expose' on the Grenfell cladding. Much of what was said, however, is already known. Panorama's new revelation was that the insulation foam used in conjunction with the cladding on Grenfell Tower was highly flammable and had not been tested. Another version had been sent for testing which, according to the programme, had lots of flame retardants in it so it would get through the test; but the foam that was sold did not contain enough. I will refrain from noting who might be pleased to hear this, or that they may well have played a part in the revelation in the first place.
I'm not sure if Panorama is aware, but this is a common issue with testing. For example, in furniture it's called 'The Golden Roll'. A roll of fabric is treated with enough FRs to get it through the fire test but the fabric that is sold to manufacturers contains much less FRs (thereby profitting by putting the public at risk).
Three of the main interviewees on the programme were happy to keep the focus on cladding as the villain of the piece. But I'm pretty sure the BBC is unaware that one of the 'fire experts' speaking out against cladding had been due to be a paid expert witness to the Inquiry for a cladding company but was then ditched by them. Another has produced excellent work showing just how toxic furniture is but for some reason when speaking to the media only focusses on cladding where Grenfell Tower is concerned. The other is associated with people who are funded by the flame retardant industry and have done much to prevent safety changes to the Furniture Regulations going ahead, therefore perhaps also keen to keep attention on cladding.
Today, I phoned in to Radio 4's You and Yours programme which was all about Grenfell Tower. The researcher I spoke to asked about my interest; I told him about the Grenfell Fire Forum and how we are keen to raise issues like those above which are currently being ignored or mishandled by the Inquiry/Hackitt Review. I said my speciality was furniture flammability and told him about the role it played at Grenfell. "I've never heard of that," he said. "That's the problem," I replied.
When I got on air, I introduced myself and the Forum then stated that the majority of toxic smoke in the Tower came from burning sofas and mattresses. Winifred Robinson interrupted me to say that that was a 'controversial view' and that on Panorama it was said that cladding produced the hydrogen cyanide which caused the deaths. And there we have it. This wasn't exactly what was said on Panorama and I didn't say that all the hydrogen cyanide came from furniture and none from cladding in the first place. But it shows how cleverly the one-source view has been established in people's minds.
I went on to say that yes cladding produced hydrogen cyanide but explained that Professor Richard Hull, who had spoken on Panorama, had published a paper recently that proves that an FR-treated UK sofa is more dangerous than an untreated EU sofa and produces three times more toxic smoke when it burns. I went on to explain that the Department for Business had proved 4 years ago that the main ignition test in the furniture regulations fails in practice in up to 90% of sofas which means that we're all sitting on flammable products that are highly toxic.
At least this issue was raised; as it also was on London Live last week; and on Newsnight a few months ago. But there is a long way to go.
The Forum has been working with Justice4Grenfell and Humanity for Grenfell. What we share with these determined, brave people is a powerful desire to see that the full truth behind Grenfell is revealed and the real problems put right. It's difficult for them to trust anyone in the establishment, which includes the government, local authorities, business, the media, vulturing 'experts' looking to use them to get work . . . And this isn't cynicsm on their part; it's awareness of how the system controls everything to the benefit of business and the smooth careers of officials.
And you know what? Seeing the determination, courage and commitment of the Grenfell survivors, I feel optimistic that this time the bad guys might just be about to lose.
A few initial thoughts on the final report of the Hackitt Review
The Dame Hackitt Review published its final report on 17th May 2018. This was two days before the royal wedding, which I'm sure was a complete coincidence. Today, the Evening Standard - London's newspaper, the city where the Grenfell Tower tragedy occurred - published 18 pages on the wedding and exactly no words at all on the Hackitt report (it managed a few paragraphs yesterday, along with another 8 or 9 pages on the wedding).
Yesterday, I gave an interview to London Live. On the way there, I bumped into Sir Ken Knight who has appeared a few times in the pages of this website. He is very prominent in the Grenfell Inquiry, e.g. chaired the Inquiry's experts panel last year. Anyway, I told him that I'd been talking to Grenfell residents and they were unanimously angry that the Hackitt Review did not recommended a ban on combustible cladding. Sir Ken, before rushing off, said, "It was never intended that the Hackitt Review would go down to that level of detail."
Which of course raises some interesting questions. For a start, the Hackitt Review actually promised at the outset that it was going to look at all relevant buildings and fire safety legislation. Which sounds pretty detailed to me. Okay, most of us wondered how on earth they could hope to do that in just a few months. And they didn't. But what they also didn't do was own up to everyone that it was too big a task and discuss options. Instead, they simply changed the remit of the review. So, for example, at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue group a few months ago, I asked the civil servant administering the Hackitt Review why they kept refusing to even look at the Furniture Regulations, especially when they are the key fire safety law governing the inside of dwellings and the government proved 4 years ago they don't work. "It's not within our remit," he said; "we're now taking a broader view."
He and Sir Ken may have decided that's what the Review was meant to do but the residents I've spoken to over the past couple of days are all definitely under the impression that the Hackitt Review was going to tackle specific issues like cladding.
But perhaps more than anything else, you have to wonder what was the point of months of work with all those Review working groups, resulting in a 160 page report, if such 'detail' as one of the main contributing factors to the fire was never on the table for discussion in the first place?
The final report contains the word 'should' 290 times and 'consider' 86 times. It talks a lot about how there needs to be a change in the 'culture' surrounding buildings and fire safety but never explains how this will come about.
And it fails totally in dealing with the main contributors to the fire:
Cladding- has not recommended that combustible cladding be banned
Furniture- has not even looked at its massive contribution to the fire
Fire-spreading- again, not even looked at. How the fire spread through the building so fast was down to many required fire-stopping elements being missing or faulty
Toxic smoke- not even mentioned once in the report, yet this was what killed the vast majority of people in the fire
On the Hackitt Review Circular 15th February
The Grenfell Inquiry/Hackitt Review/Experts Panel has been steadfast in totally ignoring the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations, despite numerous warnings from myself and others. Why? Well, for me a big clue was apparent in the Hackitt Review's circular, issued last week: here
First, there is no mention at all of the Furniture Regs. Second, the aim of the Review has apparently changed. This is no great surprise, in that there was never going to be time for it to fulfil its original remit, which was to examine all relevant fire and building safety legislation. Now, the Review is clearly aiming to produce a general final report, which will be along the lines of:
Legislation is mainly adequate; it's just enforcement and interpretation that needs to be improved. There is a 'culture change' required, so that existing measures are taken seriously. Testing also needs to be tightened up. Standards X, Y and Z need to be improved . . . we will set up a task force to carry this work forward.
The Furniture Regs, however, do not fit into this vision. They are prescriptive requirements (unlike the Fire Safety Order that is advisory) which a) have been proved to not work by the government itself and b) can be put right by the changes the government has been unnecessarily blocking for the past 4 years.
The people advising the Hackitt Review know that if they reveal this, then not only are those amongst them who are profiting from the situation (largely via chemical industry backing) outed but the whole of the fire safety regime has to be looked at more closely, and that would be disastrous - not for the public of course but for the boys' club that is largely pulling the profitable strings behind the Review.
Update - 17 February, 2018
BEIS has just replied to an offer from an industry expert to help with putting right the Furniture Regulations, in light of the response they have been giving everyone lately, i.e. that their delay in acting on the September 2016 consultation is because the Regulations are so 'complex'. They told him that they "haven't got any specific stakeholder meetings planned at present". Which is extraordinary and should possibly be classed as criminal behaviour.
In short: they proved in 2014 that the current Regulations don't work and came up with the solution. They delayed implementation to protect the profits of the chemical industry and cover their backsides and later, under pressure from the press, went out to consultation again in September 2016, with the same proposals for change. At the same time, they got rid of all their staff with any experience of the Regulations and brought in new people with no learning capacity as well as a complete lack of files on the subject. As the FOI answers show, they have done next to nothing since September 2016 on making changes which would stop people dying in fires and from high levels of toxic fumes.
You may wonder why they would now admit that they have no meetings planned. The answer means looking in a little more detail at how many civil servants think. The civil servant who replied in this case - the leader of the Furniture Regulations team - would have gone through a mental process something like this:
If I say we are meeting stakeholders, I'll face two problems: 1) Further FOI requests will prove that we aren't, and 2) I'll be forced to actually hold some stakeholder meetings.
If we hold stakeholder meetings, we'll be forced to meet some people who really understand the Regulations, which will mean at some point we - me in particular - will have to explain why we have failed to act to put them right. Then we would have to put them right.
If we put them right, I will be seen as the person who brought embarrassment to the senior civil servants who delayed in the first place. Which would be bad for my career.
If we put them right, it will upset the chemical industry and furniture industry who will attack us and we/I don't have the knowledge/guts/public interest concern to face them. Which would also be bad for my career.
If we admit there's a problem with the Regulations, it could hugely affect the Grenfell Inquiry/Hackitt Review and might even lead to a chain reaction bringing down the whole house of faulty cards that constitutes the fire safety regime in the UK. Which would be very bad for my career.
Therefore, on balance, it's better not to hold any further stakeholder meetings. Okay, we will keep getting criticised for not acting, but that's better for my career than actually doing something.
This kind of 'thinking' is allowed, even approved of, because the main purpose of the Whitehall Civil Service is to protect the Whitehall Civil Service. It is not to serve the public or even, any longer, to serve Ministers. Some time in the past, the response given above - that BEIS has no plans for any further stakeholder meetings - would have been first run past the relevant Minister. Who, obviously, would have had questions. But, as I saw in my final few years in BEIS, civil servants now increasingly act without Ministerial approval. Part of the reason for this is that the culture of Whitehall has increasingly been about holding internal meetings/discussing processes/producing 'corporate' objectives - all keeping the public and politicians and the outside world at arms' length. Self-preservation is the aim and the justification.
One time, I pointed out to the Furniture Regulations team that the failing match test was causing up to 20 or so deaths a year. No one disputed this but one senior civil servant made the comment that this was 'only' a few deaths. I asked her how she'd feel if one of those deaths was her mother, in a painful, horrific house fire. She didn't reply, blushed for a few seconds, then got on with her career.
UPDATE - 1 February, 2018
Two Freedom of Information Act requests were recently put to BEIS. The first was to ascertain what they've been doing about the faulty Furniture Regs. The second, in light of BEIS's frequent citing of Grenfell Tower as a reason for delay in putting right the Regs, asked what contact have they had with the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
The answers are scandalous, details here:
UPDATE - 23 December, 2017
At the Fire Congress, I made two challenges with regard to the fact the current match test does not work and the new one is being blocked - one to the delegates in general, to check out the facts for themselves; the other to specific individuals (two of them present) to explain the FPA/FSF's role in not putting the test right. See my follow-up email (dated 18 November) below for further details. At the time of writing (23 December), there has been no reply.
In the course of trying to protect the public I have often encountered the no-reply tactic. It is of course a sign of guilt. But it is, I suppose, what those concerned consider to be the least damaging route to take.
We are finding plenty of similar non-responses regarding the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Date: Saturday, 18 November 2017 at 16:48
To: (Wide range of fire sector leaders and others.)
Subject: Re: Congress on Friday
Thank you once again for the opportunity to speak at the Congress on a very important, but so far largely ignored, topic. I didn't want to use PowerPoint, in keeping with the spirit of open discussion. However, that meant people did not have any headline points, contact details and links. To that end, I'd be very grateful if you could circulate the text below to delegates.
Regarding the section on accountability - I'd very much appreciate a response from Dave [Sibert] and Paul [Fuller].
Terry Edge - "Ineffective and dangerous furniture flammability regulations"
In the spirit of accountability:
General Request to all delegates:
Read the government's own proof at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/furniture-fire-safety-regulations-proposed-amendments - specifically, the fifth document on this page - the 2014 consultation document. Also the second document, the "Technical Annex" (fully endorsed by the UK's leading test experts as proving the case).
Terry Edge: terryedge@xxxxxxxx
For further information on the failings of the Furniture Regulations: www.toxicsofa.com
* * *
Regarding the first bullet point above under 'In the spirit of accountability', here is a slide from the presentation made by the FPA/FSF to BEIS in late 2014.
Leaving aside their claim that these were the FSF's proposals when in fact they were BIS's, the important point was that they were agreeing that BIS's proposed new match test will work by making sofas fire-safer and reducing flame retardants. The only new suggestion they made was that we should, as an interim measure, go ahead with the new match test but still use the old test foam, while British Standards came up with a new test foam. We had told them that a new test foam was already specified in the new match test, based on the one in use since 1988 but they had their reasons for not listening. (Incidentally, this suggestion also demonstrated worrying technical ignorance since using the old highly-flammable test foam with a fibre layer would be combining the worst of two worlds.) This was in my view just blatant back-covering since they knew very well that BIS could not simply introduce a new interim test: it would need another consultation and would have been an unfair burden on industry. However, they were no doubt concerned about the extra deaths/fires that would have occurred in the extra 12 months they'd demanded.
On the last slide point: they have of course ensured that this issue has continued to drag on ever since.
I may produce a more detailed page on the FPA/FSF's efforts to delay the new match test, including their full slide presentation with my comments. In the meantime, please contact me if you require further information.
Update, September 2017:
I am speaking at at the forthcoming 'FIRE Congress' focussing on Grenfell Tower.
Details below from the website:
FIRE Congress: Out of the flames: a fire safe future after the tragedy of Grenfell
Date: 17 November 2017
Where: Caledonian Club, London
The summer issue of FIRE magazine provided a unique perspective on the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, offering an inside account of neglect from successive administrations. Some of the finest minds in UK fire prevention and protection offered their expertise and knowledge for this special Grenfell edition, but we want to go even further.
With these expert contributors forming the core speakers, our exclusive FIRE Congress: Out of the flames: a fire safe future after the tragedy of Grenfell will allow confidential, off-the-record and frank discussions about how an integral whole sector approach can lead to a fire safety environment. The Congress will include a mixture of formal presentations, interactive debate and panel discussions.
Programme09.30-10.00 Arrival and Registration
Session 1: Making Fire Safety Future Proof
10.00-10.00 Introduction - Andrew Lynch, Editor FIRE Magazine, Vice Chair, Fire Sector Federation
10.00-10.40 Keynote Address
10.40-11.10 National Fire Chiefs Council response - Stewart Edgar, Prevention lead NFCC; Mark Hardingham, Protection lead NFCC
11.10-11.40 Grenfell Tower: a tragedy waiting to happen? - Tony Prosser, FIRE Correspondent
11.40-12.00 Break for Tea and Coffee
12.20-13.00 Panel Discussion: Future Proofing Fire Safety - Including Brian Robinson, President, Fire Sector Federation
Session 2: Towards a Fire Safe Future
13.45-14.15 Combustible cladding and wider issues - Dave Sibert, Fire Safety Advisor, Fire Brigades Union
14.15-14.45 Ineffective and dangerous furniture flammability regulations - Terry Edge, former lead on Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations
14.45-15.00 Break for Tea and Coffee
15.00-15.30 Next steps for a fire safe future
15.30-16.10 Panel Discussion: Vision for a Fire Safe Future - Including Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council; Paul Fuller, Chair, Fire Sector Federation
16.10-16.20 Closing address - Andrew Lynch
Update, August 2017:
Fire Magazine's August/September 2017 edition focusses on the Grenfell Tower fire and contains my article on the ineffectiveness of the Furniture Regulations and the role that burning furniture played in the tragedy. You can read it here: 2017-08_fire_magazine_terry_edge.pdf.
GRENFELL TOWER FIRE
Burning furniture played a major role in the production of huge amounts of toxic fumes, including hydrogen cyanide, in the Grenfell Tower fire. This has been picked up only sporadically by the press so far. Cyanide from the burning cladding on the outside of the tower has been given more attention and has not been disputed. But burning furniture would have produced far more cyanide inside the tower.
As can be seen from this site, the UK's furniture regulations are ineffective, which means furniture burns quicker than it should do and when it does, releases cyanide in greater amounts than is necessary (if the regulations had been fixed in 2014 when the government first had the chance to do so).
Below are my reflections on a public meeting of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry team held on 25th July 2017. Below that is my email to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Below that are some emails between myself and Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. I will add other material in due course.
Update: as of 28 August Matt Wrack has not replied to let me know what the FBU has done about the serious situation I brought to their attention. He may or may not be aware that a senior FBU official played a large part in preventing the Furniture Regulations from being updated and made safe. This is the same official who told me that he didn't believe there was any problem with flame retardants. The flame retardant industry, of course, has provided hundreds of thousands of euros in funding to fire officials, in return for supporting their products. There is hard evidence of this in the public domain regarding fire officials who have retired from the fire service to run 'fire safety' organisations which heavily promote more flame retardants. That the flame retardant industry would approach and make offers to currently serving fire officials is of course speculation.
Grenfell Tower Inquiry, public meeting, "Terms of Reference", 25th July 2017
Walking to Notting Hill Methodist Church from Latimer Road tube station, two things strike me. The first is the stark contrast between the utilitarian blocks of flats and the pretty houses that run between and around them - mostly Victorian cottages painted in the tasteful colours of the middle-class. The average price of a three-bedroom terraced house in Treadgold Street, for example, is over two million pounds. I will see very few residents at the meeting later that strike me as having that sort of cash to spend on a home. London is of course a patchwork of poor areas rubbing shoulders with richer parts but I don't recall seeing them as intertwined as this before.
The second is when I turn a corner by the Leisure Centre and suddenly Grenfell Tower fills the sky. I've seen it countless times on TV but this is a huge shock. It looms like a blackened skeleton, gaping eye sockets and jaw cavities everywhere. The utter devastation it portrays is all the more shocking in contrast today with the surrounding intact buildings, and the children playing happily outside the centre.
Some believe the fire was created deliberately, to free up land for the rich. If so, it's deeply disturbing to consider that the arsonists might look at this massive corpse without feeling any empathy for the many deaths they caused, of the most painful and pointless kind.
By the time the meeting begins, the large room on the second floor of the church is full with around two hundred people. Immediately, and throughout, there is a stark contrast between the five Inquiry team members sitting in a line at the front and the public facing them.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the Chair, is tall and white with grey hair, supported by a team of lawyers, also clearly formerly educated, mostly white, just one who looks partly Asian. By contrast, the public covers a wide spectrum, with a minority of whites. And while the team is dressed formally, everyone else is mostly dressed in their normal attire which is also covers a huge range of expression.
Sir Martin and his team introduce themselves, very briefly it has to be said. Sir Martin is also brief in his introduction of what this meeting is about. One of the residents will later point this out, that the team have not told us where they personally stand about the disaster, only giving predictable statements about getting to the bottom of what happened.
This is one of several key demarcation points that the careful, well-educated, team clearly miss. There is of course the reasonable view that an inquiry team should not be driven by emotion; just the facts. However, that doesn't prevent them from, for example, speaking from their own deep-felt drive to see justice prevail. But we don't hear anything like that from any of them.
Another key demarcation point occurs early on, when Sir Martin promises to 'consider' one of the issues that a resident raises. He is immediately picked up on this by residents, pointing out that he needs to 'investigate' not just consider. Sir Robert claims he means the same thing. But I think this is a subconscious slip on his part, that the residents were too wise to miss. I know from my civil servant days just how useful the word 'consider' is, especially to Ministers. They love to tell correspondents that they will 'consider' their problem, because of course that means they don't actually have to do anything about it.
Many residents point out the lack of residents' representation on the Inquiry team, that and the obvious gulf between the demographic of the team and the residents. Every time this subject is raised, the team nods thoughtfully but never once offers any solution. At one point, as a particularly well-informed and articulate resident is speaking, it occurs to me that Sir Martin could gain a massive amount of credence if he invited her to join the team on the spot. But then almost immediately I realise that the fact he won't is actually the point, i.e. they really do not want residents on the team.
Some residents speak off the point; others are very accusatory; many are articulate, passionate, and well-informed.
One woman speaks very clearly and powerfully about the 'criminal ring' behind the fire. She says she has been researching this subject for 40 years. She has, for example, discovered that Kensington Council changed its insurer for the Tower three months before the fire, the new cover to include a huge payout for 'casualties'. She also talks about Agenda 21, the elite's plans for population reduction, the Georgia Guidestones and a lot more. I find the audiences' reactions to this very interesting.
Now, if this was a well-educated, middle-class audience she would no doubt be ridiculed for giving credence to 'conspiracy theories'. This response perhaps displaying the somewhat black and white thinking that tends to develop from a more formal, not to say establishment-approved, education. By contrast, only one person in the hall shouts out about conspiracy theories, most of the others applauding her or make supporting noises. I don't think for a minute this means everyone agrees with everything she has said. However, it possibly displays a less black-and-white approach, in that they can at least support her commitment to uncovering the truth (at great personal cost, by the sound of things) and its anti-establishment core.
Another thread of discontent that is incredibly frustrating for the residents is to see plainly that what Sir Martin is saying in effect is that the Inquiry doesn't have any powers to prosecute; can't raise criminal proceedings; probably won't be interviewing those who are perhaps most responsible for safety cuts (like David Cameron, as one resident suggests); can't give a deadline or say where the inquiry will go. He confirms one resident's research that there has never been a prosecution for corporate manslaughter - let alone corporate murder which is what many consider is the case with Grenfell.
Someone says that all they're going to produce, therefore, is another report that will sit on a shelf gathering dust with all the other reports.
The subject of cyanide poisoning is raised a few times, but only in connection with the outside cladding. This reminds me that there is still some way to go before it will be fully recognised that in fact the largest source of cyanide in the tower was burning sofas and mattresses. But that can wait for another day. This meeting is for the residents to push, once again, for a fair and open inquiry into an event that has ended a large number of lives - the final count still not provided by the authorities, as many residents point out tonight - and had a devastating effect on the lives of many more.
This morning I had a long chat with one of the lawyers of BME Lawyers 4 Grenfell, who suggested I attend the meeting. The following day, they sent an excellent letter to Sir Martin, which points to possible breaches of the Equality Act regarding the non-diverse composition of the Inquiry team; includes a list of suggested experts for the Advisory Panel; and recommends Terms of Reference which are much more in keeping with residents' needs than what has so far been suggested by Sir Martin.
The letter states:
"The community will not be patronised and seeks answers, through us as well as others. We therefore raise the following questions to which answers are sought, whether directly from you or others:
1. Please outline the criteria that was deemed necessary for the post of Chair of this Inquiry;
2. Please outline the criteria that was deemed necessary for the posts of members of the Inquiry Team and its Secretariat;
3. Please outline the process by which you were selected;
4. Please outline the process by which the legal members of your Inquiry Team were selected;
5. Please outline the process by which member of Secretariat to the Inquiry Team were selected;
6. If an open and fair system of selection, such as open advertising of any of the posts were not undertaken, please explain why it was felt that there should be no consultation or competition"
All of which sounds perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, for me the tenor of the Inquiry team tonight has been one of overall patronisation - not consciously, of course. But shown via the complete absence of natural and heartfelt reaction to the requests being put to them, requests born out of sheer pain of loss and a desperate need for answers. Instead, there has been little other than professional and well-practiced looks of 'concern' and 'patience'.
My email to the Inquiry
----- Original Message -----
From: Terry Edge
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2017 5:53 PM
Subject: Contribution of faulty furniture flammability Regulations
A very important issue that I believe the Inquiry needs to look into is the contribution made to the Grenfell Tower fire by the fact that the UK's Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (FFRs) are faulty and largely ineffective. The government has known about this for at least three years. Indeed, in 2014 the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (now BEIS) proposed measures that would make the Regulations fire-safe. But these changes are being blocked by industry for costs reasons.
The hundreds of sofas and mattresses in the Tower would have released hydrogen cyanide in large amounts upon ignition, as a result of the flame retardant chemicals used to meet the requirements of the FFRs, and burned more quickly due to the faults with the FFRs.
Professor Richard Hull - who has been appearing regularly in the media, talking about the Grenfell Tower cladding - will soon be publishing the results of his research into the burning properties of furniture. He has already summarised this work at a recent conference on flame retardants by stating that a UK sofa treated with flame retardant chemicals (as is normal) is actually more dangerous than an EU sofa that hasn't been treated. This is because any additional escape time provided by flame retardants is easily outweighed by the effects of the toxic fumes they give off very soon after a sofa catches fire.
The first confirmed reports of cyanide poisoning in Tower victims are just appearing the press. The media is reporting that there were internal sources of cyanide, such as plastics and insulation. However, the largest source would have been sofas and mattresses.
I would welcome the chance to discuss this further with you.