Cancer-causing chemicals found close to Grenfell Tower, study finds

Cancer-causing chemicals and other potentially harmful toxins have been found close to Grenfell Tower, according to analysis of debris and soil samples.

A month after the fire in June 2017, in which 72 people died, researchers discovered cancer-causing chemicals in samples taken from balconies within 100 metres of the tower

A team at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) analysed soil and debris samples taken from six locations up to 1.2km from the west London tower.

The study, published in Chemosphere, uncovered “significant environmental contamination” in the surrounding area, including in oily deposits collected 17 months after the tragedy.

Based on the level of chemicals discovered, researchers concluded there was an increased risk of a number of health problems including cancer and asthma to those in the area.

Researchers said the substances were discovered in quantities that could indicate that they resulted from the burning of specific materials used in the 2016 refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.

The study was led by Professor Anna Stec, who said there was a need for further analysis to “quantify any risk” of conditions such as cancer, asthma and other respiratory problems.

The fire chemistry and toxicity professor at UCLan said it was “crucial” to introduce a long-term health screening programme for residents, emergency responders and clean-up workers.

Tower block fire in London
Grenfell Tower, now covered in plastic sheeting (Rick Findler/PA)

She added: “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 framework for dealing with any similar disasters in the future.”

The study identified potentially harmful chemicals found close to and around the tower, including soil and fallen debris taken within 50 metres containing potentially toxic phosphorous flame retardants commonly used in insulation foam and furniture.

It also found elevated concentrations of the carcinogen benzene 25 to 40 times higher than typically found, as well as dust and a yellow oily deposit which contained isocyanates, a single exposure of which can lead to asthma.

Public Health England has been monitoring air quality around the tower since the fire and said in a report last week that the “the risk to public health from air pollution remains low”.

The Government announced that further environmental checks were to be carried out around Grenfell Tower last year.

A spokesman told the Guardian: “We take Professor Stec’s findings extremely seriously, and fully appreciate the ongoing health concerns.

“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.”

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