Call to ban sale of dangerous inflammable clothing in British shops

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The Independent Online

A gap in the law is allowing flammable clothes like the ones which increased the death toll in last week's Dutch night club fire to be sold in Britain's high street stores.

A gap in the law is allowing flammable clothes like the ones which increased the death toll in last week's Dutch night club fire to be sold in Britain's high street stores.

The New Year fire was partly attributed to the garments worn by revellers. The governor of the province where the fire took place, Jos van Kemenade, referred to the "very dangerous plastic and synthetic materials" which many of the partygoers were wearing.

In the US, strict regulations govern the manufacture and sale of such clothes, but UK law covers only children's nightwear. Adult nightwear that does not pass these regulations must carry a warning, but may still be sold. There are no regulations which stop the sale of potentially dangerous day clothes.

Home Office statistics show as many as a third of all clothing fires in Britain result in death, and more than two-thirds in injury. Last year, 31 people died as a direct result of their clothing igniting.

Safety experts' concern centres on clothes made from plastics, synthetic fabrics and fibres, particularly polyester, polypropylene and nylon - any fabrics that can melt.

David Jenkins, a product safety adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "The materials being used are often three times more flammable than nightwear treated with flame-retarded chemicals. There is a requirement in the US for all clothing material to satisfy a minimum flammability requirement. There are no equivalent standards in this country."

Adair Lewis, a technical manager at the Fire Protection Association, said: "The problem is that they are affected at very low temperatures. If you were wearing a cotton shirt, it would just flare up and drop away from you, whereas synthetic materials melt at low temperatures and stick to you. The melting point for these man-made fibres is not far above 100C. In terms of a fire, that is a very low temperature. Flames are between 500C and 600C. You don't have to be that close to the flames for the garments to melt."

Dr Don Christian, the chairman of the British Standard Technical Committee for the Fire Behaviour of Textiles, said: "Textile technology has made significant advances in the use of materials. This has increased the threat because there has been no evaluation of their fire performance or safety levels."

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