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Tory ministers accused of ‘failing’ Grenfell residents after rejecting calls for contamination tests around block

Government accused of ‘complacent and patronising attitude’ towards those living around tower after it dismissed MPs’ calls to set up biomonitoring scheme following reports of ‘Grenfell cough’

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 30 October 2019 01:04 GMT
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Since the fire disaster, survivors and neighbouring residents have complained of many symptoms
Since the fire disaster, survivors and neighbouring residents have complained of many symptoms (PA)

Ministers have been accused of “utterly failing” Grenfell residents in the aftermath of the disaster after they rejected MPs’ calls for contamination tests to be carried out in the area around the tower, despite reports that residents were suffering with coughs, breathing difficulties and vomiting.

On the day the first report of the public inquiry is set to be published, the Environmental Audit Committee condemned the government for displaying a “complacent and patronising attitude” towards those living around the block, after ministers dismissed the group’s call to set up a biomonitoring scheme in the area.

Since the fire disaster in June 2017, which killed 72 people, survivors and neighbouring residents have complained of symptoms including “the Grenfell cough”, coughing up blood and skin complaints, as well as expressing concern about the long-term effects on their own and their children’s health of the cocktail of pollutants released.

MPs attacked government health chiefs in July for displaying “a troubling lack of urgency” over chemical contamination around Grenfell Tower following these reports, saying the delays in offering full health testing were contributing to a sense that authorities were complacent.

In its report, the committee said tests for contamination should be carried out in the immediate aftermath of all major disasters, with the results made public, and that Public Health England should design a biomonitoring scheme, which would determine the exposure of residents to potentially toxic chemicals.

But the government has rejected the recommendation, saying PHE did “not routinely recommend this practice following large fires because it is not usually possible to determine whether contaminants detected can be directly associated with the fire”, adding that this could “cause unnecessary concern to an already distressed community”.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the committee, said the government had “utterly failed” Grenfell residents in the aftermath of the disaster.

She added: “Rejecting our call for a comprehensive biomonitoring scheme – which would reassure Grenfell’s traumatised community – is another example of public authorities’ complacent and patronising attitude towards residents after the fire.”

In its July report, the committee also called for urgent reconsideration of the timeframe set out by the government to make reforms to the UK’s fire safety regulations. In the government’s response, published on Wednesday, it said new regulations would be published in autumn 2021, citing their intention to hold a consultation first.

Ms Creagh said it was “absurd” that the government was displaying “supine indifferences to our furniture standards which are no longer fit for purpose”.

She added: “Holding yet another consultation means kicking the can further down the road, retaining current levels of potentially harmful chemicals in babies’ mattresses for another two years.”

It comes after a leaked copy of the report into phase one of the Grenfell inquiry revealed there were “serious shortcomings” and “systemic” failures in its response to the fire, and concluded that the tower’s cladding failed to comply with building regulations.

A government spokesperson said: “We take the wellbeing of Grenfell Tower survivors and local residents extremely seriously and it’s essential they have peace of mind regarding their health.

“Anyone in the Grenfell community who remains concerned about their health should contact their GP, who is best placed to assess individual needs and consider the most appropriate treatment.”

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