Public health advice following the Grenfell Tower fire

The government has warned people living near the Grenfell Tower site that they could have breathed in the deadly building material asbestos in the aftermath of the fire.

Public Health England issued a notice stating that “people who were close to the scene and exposed to smoke from the fire may have experienced irritation to their air passages, skin and eyes, and respiratory symptoms including coughing and wheezing, breathlessness, phlegm production and chest pain”.

 Dr Deborah Turbitt, Health Protection Director for PHE London, said:

“We know that bound asbestos, contained in building materials such as plaster or fibre board, was present in Grenfell Tower in ceilings and header panels inside airing cupboards.

 It is possible that very small amounts of asbestos fibre will have been dispersed within the smoke plume but would have formed only a small fraction of the smoke and particles released in the fire; all smoke is toxic and any asbestos would present a minimal additional risk to health.”

 But Dr Turbitt added:

“Safety officers working with teams currently on the site have tested the air within Grenfell Tower for dust and asbestos and have not detected any levels of concern. When work commences to clear the site there will be a system of engineering work that will prevent any asbestos being released from the site and a programme of regular environmental air monitoring conducted to ensure that both contractors and local residents are not put at any risk.”

Three new air quality monitors were installed in the immediate area around Grenfell Tower on 24 June by an independent environment company, according to PHE.

A newsletter sent out to residents entitled Grenfell Fire Response News states that public health experts have advised on the use of air purifiers in local properties following the fire.

“The advice comes as Public Health England continues to conduct air quality tests,” it states. Air quality testing around the area showed air pollution to be very low, it adds.

Asbestos-related diseases are typically associated with a long-term workplace exposure to high levels of airborne asbestos fibres.