Grenfell survivors could be at risk from asbestos poisoning, says coroner

Grenfell survivors could be at risk from asbestos poisoning, says coroner

Friday, September 21, 2018

The coroner leading the Grenfell Tower inquest has called on the NHS to set up a screening programme for those who were exposed to smoke and dust in the fire.

Dr Fiona Wilcox said evidence suggests that many of those who escaped the fire were “exposed to significant smoke inhalation”, as were emergency service workers and others involved in clearing up in the following days.

In a letter to NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens, Dr Wilcox said the smoke will have contained “multiple toxic substances” and the building was known to contain asbestos.

She raised concern that no physical screening programme had been put in place to monitor the health of those who survived the fire.

Those who had inhaled the smoke and dust were at risk of developing health conditions, said Dr Wilcox.  

She added that many people had also suffered emotional trauma harm to their mental health as a result of what had happened on June 14, 2017.


'Prevent future deaths' 

In her letter, Dr Wilcox said: “In my opinion action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe you [and/or your organisation] have the power to take such action. It is for each addressee to respond to matters relevant to them.”

Campaign group Grenfell United welcomed the move, adding that the “potential long-term impacts of the fire must be taken seriously”.

Seventy-two people died as a result of the fire at Grenfell Tower which broke out in the 23-storey block in west London last year.

Dr Wilcox said her letter must be responded to within 56 days.


'Multiple toxic substances' 

The letter added: “Evidence submitted as part of the investigations and issues that have been raised with me by the bereaved suggest that many of those who escaped were exposed to significant smoke inhalation.

"The smoke will have contained multiple toxic substances and it is of note that the building was known to contain asbestos.

"It is likely that almost all of those who died in the fire, died as a result of smoke inhalation, although this evidence has not yet been tested in court.

"Asbestos is known to be associated with an increased risk of respiratory illness especially mesothelioma, which may present many years, not unusually decades, after the exposure."

An NHS England spokesman said: "NHS staff provided extraordinary care to the residents of Grenfell on the night of the fire and in the months afterwards, including extensive mental health care to help people manage the trauma of the disaster.

"We have received the coroner's recommendations and will continue to work with the Grenfell community, other health organisations and the emergency services to make sure survivors, victims' relatives and other residents continue to get the care they need."