Grenfell Tower cladding maker Arconic stops selling non fire-resistant version
Panels used on 24-storey Grenfell Tower weren't supposed to be used on tall buildings
The company that supplied the cladding used on London's Grenfell Tower says it will stop selling the type of panels that were used on the building where at least 79 people perished in a devastating fire earlier this month.
Arconic, spun out of aluminum firm Alcoa last year, says it will halt sales of Reynobond PE, the type of cladding that was used on the 24-storey building in West London that caught fire on June 14.
Preliminary indications are that the cladding may have been a factor in spreading the blaze. Arconic makes a fire resistant brand of cladding called Reynobond FR, as well as a completely non-combustible version, but they weren't used on a recent retrofit of Grenfell Tower.
Reynobond PE consists of two aluminum composite panels that are filled with insulation that can often include polyethylene plastic. If improperly installed, it can be flammable, which is why the U.S., Germany and several other countries have banned its use on high-rise buildings.
"We believe this is the right decision because of the inconsistency of building codes across the world and issues that have arisen in the wake of the Grenfell Tower," Arconic said in a statement. "We will continue to fully support the authorities as they investigate this."
The company likely faces years of expensive litigation related to the disaster, although the extent of the company`s role — if any — in the fire is not clear. Arconic shares lost more than 10 per cent on Monday after news of the sales halt came out.
The company advises customers in a brochure that Reynobond PE should not be used on buildings taller than 10 metres, and Grenfell Tower is 60 metres tall.
"When conceiving a building, it is crucial to choose the adapted products in order to avoid the fire to spread to the whole building. Especially when it comes to facades and roofs, the fire can spread extremely rapidly," the brochure says. "As soon as the building is higher than the firefighters' ladders, it has to be conceived with an incombustible material."
Reuters reported this week that a series of emails sent to and by an Arconic manager suggested it knew the panels would be used on Grenfell Tower.
"We sold our products with the expectation that they would be used in compliance with the various and different local building codes and regulations," Arconic said in a statement.
"The issue is they supplied material that was used above their own marketing material's suggested limit," said Seaport Global Securities analyst Josh Sullivan.
"The concern is around the ultimate liability. You have one of the largest fires in UK history and they're searching for somebody to be at fault."
The U.K. government is scrambling to test panels similar to those used at the destroyed tower, hoping to better understand the national fire safety implications.
Arconic's announcement came as Britain's government announced that 75 buildings had failed cladding combustibility tests in 26 local authority areas. Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid said every building tested so far had failed.
"The fact that all samples so far have failed underlines the value of the testing program and the vital importance of submitting samples urgently," Javid said. "I am concerned about the speed at which samples are being submitted."
With files from Reuters, The Associated Press and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation