Similar plastic to cladding used on Grenfell Tower banned in mines 40 years ago, writes Peter Lazenby and Lamiat Sabin
SIMILAR plastic used for insulating Grenfell Tower was banned from Britain’s deep coalmines around 40 years ago because it was found to emit poisonous cyanide gas when alight, former miners told the Star yesterday.
Underground roadways in coalmines were sprayed with polyurethane to form a seal that prevented seepage of methane gas into the mines.
When it was discovered that the material could emit cyanide gas, its use was banned by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Mines and it was subsequently removed.
But the same material, or similar, is still being used in the building of blocks of flats.
Peter Davies was a miner at Brodsworth colliery, in South Yorkshire, in the 1970s.
He told the Star: “The roadway to the Barnsley seam was sprayed with this polyurethane.
“The mines research centre in Derbyshire, which is now closed down, found that if it caught fire it emitted cyanide gas so it was banned from the coalmining industry.”
Mick Appleyard, a former miner from Sharlston colliery, in West Yorkshire, said: “The first time I knew about this stuff was when there was a mining disaster in South Africa.
“More than 40 black South African miners were killed in a fire underground, but they were killed by cyanide poisoning. If the stuff didn’t catch fire it stayed dormant. But if it caught fire the cyanide was released.”
The use of the flammable insulation sandwiched between aluminium panels and an air gap has been blamed for the rapid rate in which the flames engulfed Grenfell Tower — spreading across 24 floors in just 15 minutes.
Hundreds of people have died, been declared “missing,” or been displaced after the devastating blaze broke out last week Wednesday.
The insulation was made of polyisocyanurate which is chemically almost identical to polyurethane.
Both chemicals are widely used in cladding, which was installed on the former concrete exterior of Grenfell Tower to “improve” the block’s image for the eyes of wealthy locals.
King’s College Hospital in south-west London confirmed that three survivors have been treated with the hydrogen cyanide antidote Cyanokit.
It is suspected that the 79 Grenfell residents confirmed dead so far were killed by toxic gas.
Cladding manufacturer Celotex has confirmed that the insulation would release toxic gases if on fire.
The combustible cladding has been found on at least three tower blocks across Britain, it was also revealed yesterday, with samples expected to be checked from many more buildings.
Camden Council leader Georgia Gould has announced that several tower blocks in the north London borough, including on its Chalcots Estate, will have its cladding removed.
She said: “The new results from the laboratory show that the outer cladding panels themselves are made up of aluminium panels with a polyethylene core.”
Councils in England estimate that around 600 high-rise buildings have some form of cladding.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced in the Commons yesterday that urgent tests are being carried out on all 600 blocks to determine whether they have flammable cladding similar to that found on Grenfell.
The Department for Communities and Local Government claimed that the figure referred to high buildings with any form of cladding.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on the government to ensure funds were available to make the high-rise structures safe by carrying out fire safety checks and installing sprinklers.
“Resources must be made available immediately,” he said.