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PA Cladding Company Named in Grenfell Lawsuit

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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Survivors of London’s fatal Grenfell Tower fire, along with the families of the more than 70 who died in the blaze, are suing material and product suppliers in a Philadelphia Court of Appeals.

The Associated Press reports that nearly 250 people have joined the suit, which names refrigerator maker Whirlpool, based in Benton Harbor, Michigan; Pittsburgh-based cladding manufacturer Arconic Inc.; and insulation maker Celotex, whose parent company, French manufacturer Saint-Gobain, has its U.S. headquarters in the Philadelphia suburbs.

What Happened

On June 14, 2017, Grenfell Tower—a 24-story, 120-home apartment building—caught fire and resulted in the death of 72 people. While the fire started in a fridge-freezer in an apartment on the fourth floor, the blaze then spread to a nearby window. The building had recently undergone a $12.73 million renovation that was completed in the spring of 2016 and is largely believed to be responsible for why the fire spread so quickly.

ChiralJon, CC-SA-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Survivors of London’s fatal Grenfell Tower fire, along with the families of the more than 70 who died in the blaze, are suing material and product suppliers in a Philadelphia Court of Appeals.

At that time, the building was refurbished with a system of polyester powder-coated aluminum rain-screen panels, insulated exterior cladding and double-glazed windows, as well as a communal heating system.

A Guardian investigation in 2018 revealed that nonflammable aluminum panels had initially been proposed for the refurb but were switched out to save money.

The publication found that, at first, under the local government’s preferred contractor, Leadbitter, subcontractor D+B Facades had provided a 3.3 million-pound (roughly $4.1 million) quote to fit a system of aluminum panels backed with mineral wool insulation.

A few months later, the council decided that Leadbitter wanted to spend too much on the refurbishment, and put the contract out to tender to save about 1.3 million pounds. It went with a different contractor, Rydon, which provided a lower bid, but fitted the tower with the combustible cladding that authorities believe contributed to the number of fatalities in the fire.

The Guardian found that the council had originally wanted to spend 6 million pounds on Grenfell, but later set a different budget of 9.7 million pounds, because it realized it needed to replace the heating system. Leadbitter was on course to spend 11.3 million pounds, which is why council says it put the contract back out.

Manufacturer Omnis Exteriors confirmed that they supplied the Arconic Architectural Product to Harley Facades—the subcontractor that Rydon utilized for the cladding work.

Around the same time in 2018, BBC News uncovered that the Reynobond PE cladding was subjected to European tests in 2014 and 2015 for “reaction to fire,” in which products are typically given an A to F rating, with A being the highest.

Natalie Oxford, CC-SA-BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Guardian found that the council had originally wanted to spend 6 million pounds on Grenfell, but later set a different budget of 9.7 million pounds, because it realized it needed to replace the heating system. Leadbitter was on course to spend 11.3 million pounds, which is why council says it put the contract back out.

(Many officials believed that the legal standard for such towers was a B rating. While that belief had been contested among industry professionals, the legal minimum rating now, post-Grenfell fire, has been upgraded to A.)

The reports from the 2014-15 tests reveal that two types of the Reynobond, both of which were installed at Grenfell, had less than B ratings. One type, called “riveted,” received a C classification, while another, “cassette” received an E classification.

The BBC obtained correspondence from Arconic to clients confirming the ratings.

What Now

The lawsuit is not seeking specific monetary damages, which would be up to a jury to decide. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, says he anticipates the case will take more than two years before even going to trial.

The AP reports that the suit accuses Arconic of cutting corners by using the polyethylene product instead of a more expensive, fire-resistant material. The suit also notes that the insulation produced by Celotex released cyanide gas that killed several of the victims and caused lasting injuries in some of the survivors, according to another plaintiffs’ lawyer, Jeffrey Goodman.

Both products have since been pulled from the market.

All three companies issued statements extending sympathies to victims and pledging their cooperation with the public inquiry that’s currently underway in London.

 

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 10:30 p.m., June 23, with additional information on the cause of the fire.

   

Tagged categories: Cladding; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Fire; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Safety

Comment from David Sloderbeck, (6/23/2019, 12:44 AM)

Why is Whirlpool in the Lawsuit?


Comment from Brandy Hadden, (6/23/2019, 10:30 PM)

Hi, David! The fire originally stemmed from a fridge-freezer in a unit on the fourth floor. Some information has been added to the story to clarify. Thanks for reading!


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