Socialist Party
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3 April 2019

Toxic Grenfell fire residue threatens survivors: full health screening now!

Unite the Union housing workers' branch member

Cancer-causing chemicals and other potentially harmful toxins have been found close to Grenfell Tower in fire debris and soil samples, according to the University of Central Lancashire.

The report warns of serious health risks to the surrounding community and survivors of the fire. Professor Anna Stec, who led the independent study, 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.

Substances were discovered in quantities that could indicate they resulted from the burning of specific materials used in the fateful 2016 refurbishment of the tower.

The government says the risk to health is "generally very low." But what does it base this on?

On the day of publication, the Grenfell United group tweeted: "Whatever the government promise today they need to realise it's already too little and too late. Testing in the community must start immediately, and by immediately, we mean yesterday."

But the official body Public Health England blandly states: "We have established a comprehensive programme of environmental checks to fully assess the risks and take appropriate action. Professor Stec is part of an independent group of scientists overseeing this work and her findings will inform the checks we are conducting."

Stec was so worried about her initial results, she sent a briefing note to senior staff within the local council and government agencies in February last year, urging immediate action to analyse soil and dust within and around the tower and other evacuated buildings.

In October her early findings found their way into the press. Why were the initial findings not publicised?

"We are trapped here," Andrea Newton, former chair of the Lancaster West residents' association, is quoted as saying. "Public Health England will never tell the truth [because] it will highlight their negligence, place [the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea] in a housing crisis, put central government in a huge financial predicament.

"The big players in housing, industry, property development and related manufacturers have too much to lose. They gain nothing from transparency."

Again we see the disregard for the lives of working-class people in Tory Britain on display here. A full programme of health screening, and following up Professor Stec's work, must be implemented immediately.

If national bodies will not act, the council must, and send the bill to the government. The Socialist Party has previously raised the idea of tenants organising and potentially withholding rent if their safety is not guaranteed. There must be no more deaths from the Grenfell atrocity.