Socialist Worker

Grenfell Tower site could be highly toxic

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2634

A Silent Walk for Grenfell demands justice

A Silent Walk for Grenfell demands justice (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The full scale of water and soil poisoning in the area surrounding Grenfell Tower could be revealed by an investigation in the New Year.

The Tories announced that the Environment Agency (EA) will investigate toxicity in the wake of the blaze that took place at the west London tower block in June 2017.

For Grenfell survivors and residents it’s too little, too late.

Moyra Samuels from the Justice4Grenfell campaign said, “Whether it’s the slow response to taking down flammable material or the pace of rehousing survivors, people have been treated appallingly.”

Chemicals found in the surrounding area include asbestos and cyanide.

Professor Anna Stec of Uclan university raised concerns in October about toxicity in the soil up to a mile away from the tower.

She argued then that authorities needed to take urgent steps before her full report is released in early 2019.

Public Health England (PHE) said it would wait for her report before it took action.


Another report released by PHE on 6 December outlined the steps it has taken to monitor air quality since the fire.

On 14 June 2017—the night of the fire—PHE relied on existing air quality monitoring stations.

It only set up “additional monitoring for particulate matter” by 24 June and “asbestos monitoring” on 30 June. It is possible that toxic particles fell to the earth in the time between the fire and when the PHE set up additional measuring facilities days later.

One criticism aimed at Stec was that soil toxicity could be due to historic reasons, such as previous industry on the site sampled. The EA has said it will take this into consideration when carrying out its tests.

The EA has said it will test “deeper soils, dust from inside buildings, surface water and home-grown fruit and vegetables will also be assessed”.

This should have been done immediately after the fire—not 18 months later.

Inquiry report released

The Grenfell Tower inquiry last week released a confidential report into the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO).

It was initially commissioned by Tory-run Kensington and Chelsea council. It found that the TMO, which was responsible for managing Grenfell Tower, had an adequate fire and safety strategy.

The worst transgressions the report found was a “recurring theme of failure to consider fire signage”.

Yet a report by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority eight months before the fire found serious problems.

They included fire doors that did not fit properly.

And it also detailed other problems which meant smoke could spread more quickly.

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