Highly dangerous chemicals and other harmful toxins have been found in debris and soil samples close to Grenfell Tower, that could pose serious health risks to the surrounding community and survivors of the fire.
Research by an expert witness to the inquiry into the fire, has found a range of toxins with “significant environmental contamination” in a flat 160 metres from the site. Professor Anna Stec said there was now an urgent need for further analysis of the surrounding area to “quantify any risk to residents” over the long term for conditions such as cancer, asthma and other respiratory problems. Her study noted that although many of the chemicals found in the soil are stable while undisturbed, problems can arise when they come into contact with the skin through activities such as gardening or playing on the ground. Inhalation of chemicals found in the indoor samples could also be damaging to health.
Housing Secretary James Brokenshire and the Minister for Grenfell Victims Nick Hurd, wrote to Grenfell survivors and the wider community in late March to confirm the appointment of an independent specialist who will be carrying out environmental checks in the tower’s vicinity. An initial report is not expected from them July at the earliest. Natasha Elcock, chair of Grenfell United, the survivors and bereaved families group, said Professor Stec’s report was “alarming and hugely upsetting to read”. She said: “Allowing exposure to the level of pollutants in this report would be criminally negligent even without the horror of what happened that night.” She accused the Government of dragging its heels. “Twenty-one months after the fire, it has yet t o carry out a single soil test or offer a proper health screening programme to the community,” she said.
The potential risk of contamination has been one of the principal concerns for residents and survivors since the fire on 14 June 2017. They have repeatedly asked questions about the potential effects from particles in the plume of smoke and residues generated by the ferociously burning tower. Public Health England has been monitoring air quality around the tower since the fire. In a report published in early March, it said “the risk to public health from air pollution remains low”. It has also consistently played down the likelihood the fire could have caused serious contamination because of the trajectory of the plume of smoke.
By Patrick Mooney, Editor