Cheap insulation in green-compliant new cladding helped spread Grenfell Tower blaze that killed 72

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Environmental compliance-cost squeeze may have led building management to cut corners on safety.

The inquiry into the 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in London has revealed how the styrofoam thermal insulation layer in newly-fitted wall cladding enabled a small domestic fire to rapidly engulf most of the building, resulting in the loss of 72 lives.

The type of cladding installed complied with advice given to local authorities in 2010 by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to reduce emissions through installing new boilers and insulation in apartment blocks. 

At the time the U.K. was legally committed to an 80% cut in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2050, and this has since been increased to 100%. To meet the already-extravagant target, huge sums of public money would be needed.

However, in 2012, then-finance minister George Osborne imposed strict borrowing limits on all councils across Britain — including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where Grenfell Towers is situated — pressuring them to make savings where they could.

The Guardian reports that when insulated cladding was installed at the building to reduce its carbon footprint, the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) put cost above safety.

Despite residents having voted for fire-retardant zinc cladding to be used, KCTMO chose a cheaper alternative — aluminum composite material (ACM) with flammable plastic insulation.

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