Analysis of soil, char and debris samples from local area reveals considerable concentrations of toxicants from the fire
New analysis of soil, debris and char samples following the Grenfell Tower fire has uncovered significant environmental contamination in the surrounding area. This includes known cancer-causing chemicals and respiratory sensitisers, highlighting the need for a detailed investigation and long-term health screening to fully establish potential health risks to those in the local area.
One month after the fire, researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) discovered that char samples from balconies 50 to 100m from the Tower were contaminated with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This led to further analysis, six months after the fire, of soil, fire debris and char samples, taken from six locations up to 1.2km from the Tower. Based on the level of chemicals discovered, researchers have concluded that there is an increased risk of a number of health problems to those in the local area, from asthma to cancer.
The research, published in Chemosphere, revealed that soil samples within 140m of the Tower contained six key PAHs at levels of around 160 times higher than those found in reference soil taken from other urban areas.
Soil samples collected within 50m of the Tower also contained phosphorous flame retardants, materials commonly used in insulation foams and upholstered furniture that are potentially toxic to the nervous system. In this soil, as well as in fallen debris and char samples, researchers identified synthetic vitreous fibres matching those present in products used in the Grenfell Tower refurbishment.
Elevated concentrations of benzene, a proven carcinogen, were discovered up to 140m away from the Tower in quantities 25-40 times higher than those typically found in urban soils.
There is undoubtedly evidence of contamination in the area surrounding the Tower, which highlights the need for further in-depth, independent analysis to quantify any risks to residents.
Dust and a yellow oily deposit from a window blind inside a flat 160m from the Tower, collected 17 months after the fire, were also found to contain isocyanates – potent respiratory sensitisers that can lead to asthma after a single exposure. These substances were discovered in quantities that could indicate that they resulted from the burning of specific materials which were used in the 2016 refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.
Professor Anna Stec, professor in fire chemistry and toxicity at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and lead author of the study, said: “There is undoubtedly evidence of contamination in the area surrounding the Tower, which highlights the need for further in-depth, independent analysis to quantify any risks to residents.
“It is now crucial to put in place long-term health screening to assess any long-term adverse health effects of the fire on local residents, emergency responders and clean-up workers. This will also provide a future readiness for dealing with any further such disasters.”