Why Grenfell Tower Burned: Regulators Put Cost Before Safety

But the principal contractor, the Rydon Group, based in East Sussex, England, assigned the facade work to a specialist firm that was struggling financially during the project. The firm, Harley Curtain Wall, went out of business in 2015 and transferred its assets to a successor, Harley Facades.

Another subcontractor, Omnis Exteriors, said on Friday that it had not been told that the flammable Reynobond cladding was going to be combined with flammable interior insulation. That was a problem, the firm said in a statement, adding that the cladding “should only be used in conjunction with a noncombustible material.”

The cladding itself was produced by Arconic, an industry titan whose chief executive recently stepped down after an unusual public battle with an activist shareholder. Arconic sells a flammable polyethylene version of its Reynobond cladding and a more expensive, fire-resistant version.

In a brochure aimed at customers in other European countries, the company cautions that the polyethylene Reynobond should not be used in buildings taller than 10 meters, or about 33 feet, consistent with regulations in the United States and elsewhere. “Fire is a key issue when it comes to buildings,” the brochure explains. “Especially when it comes to facades and roofs, the fire can spread extremely rapidly.”

A diagram shows flames leaping up the side of a building. “As soon as the building is higher than the firefighters’ ladders, it has to be conceived with an incombustible material,” a caption says.

But the marketing materials on Arconic’s British website are opaque on the issue.

“Q: When do I need Fire Retardant (FR) versus Polyethylene (PR) Reynobond? The answer to this, in part, depends on local building codes. Please contact your Area Sales Manager for more information,” reads a question-and-answer section.

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For more than a week after the fire, Arconic declined repeated requests for comment. Then, on Thursday, the company confirmed that its flammable polyethylene panels had been used on the building. “The loss of lives, injuries and destruction following the Grenfell Tower fire are devastating, and we would like to express our deepest sympathies,” the company said. Asked about its varying product guidelines, the company added, “While we publish general usage guidelines, regulations and codes vary by country and need to be determined by the local building code experts.”

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