In the wake of the Grenfell disaster in London and similar Melbourne Lacrosse building fire in 2014, the Australian media and local and state Government bodies have been driving investigations into potential buildings in Australia that could face the same dangers.
The material in question in the Grenfell disaster and the Melbourne Lacrosse building was aluminium sheeting bonded to a polyethylene core (PE). The use of polyethylene core (PE) has been linked to major building fires in other countries.
Not to be confused with polyethylene, all Foamex polystyrene building products have a fire retardant component built into them; which means when the panels are exposed to a small flame source, they will shrink away from the naked flame.
Structured Project Management director Peter Blair spoke at a recent strata fire safety forum in Sydney. “For every 10 apartment blocks in Australia with aluminium cladding, around eight face the risk that they’re covered in the highly combustible materials that caused the Grenfell fire in London.” he said.
The dangerous cladding usually comes in from overseas, isn’t well understood, and is sometimes even certified fraudulently.
Foamex expanded and extruded polystyrene are manufactured locally to stringent Australian building standards, and approved by BRANZ.
Foamex have supplied polystyrene for insulation material to the building and construction industry for over 30 years, and fully warrants its products to have a fire-retardant additive polymerised into the raw material formulation.
What’s being done?
A Senate committee has been set up to investigate the use of cladding material on Australian buildings in the wake of the deadly Grenfell tower fire.
The committee chair, Labor senator Chris Ketter, said the Grenfell tragedy was a "timely reminder" that the Parliament had a responsibility to stop a similar disaster in Australia.
He said the main risk was that some construction companies used cladding products which were not meant to be used for high-rise buildings.
"I'm very concerned by the lack of progress in this area. We do have a patchwork of regulations in this country ... so there's always a possibility that something slips through the cracks," Senator Ketter said.
In Victoria alone, planning and fire experts estimate there are more than 5,000 buildings that contain non-compliant cladding similar to the cladding that was on the Grenfell Tower .
The Victorian Government has appointed a taskforce to fast-track the investigation into flammable cladding on the state's buildings in the wake of the deadly London tower fire.
The taskforce — co-chaired by former Liberal premier Ted Baillieu and former Labor deputy premier John Thwaites — will audit buildings to ensure they adhere to safety standards.
"The advice from various fire authorities is that there is, right around Australia, widespread non-compliance with the building code.
"There has to be a system of compliance or people aren't going to be safe."
The specific material in question in the Grenfell Tower disaster was Reynobond PE which contains a polyethylene core between two aluminium sheets, which has limited fire retardant qualities.
Industry body Expanded Polystyrene Australia earlier this year released a statement about the clear difference and fire safety of polystyrene versus polyurethane and polyethylene.
“There have been some media reports suggesting polyurethane, polystyrene and even polyester was used in connection with this tragic event. This is not the case. The manufacturer of the cladding used on the Grenfell Tower, Arconic has confirmed the product used was Reynobond PE and they have withdrawn this product from sale.
“Reynobond PE contains a polyethylene core between two aluminium sheets, which has limited fire retardant qualities.
“The polyethylene referred to in the reports bears no relationship to the EPS product manufactured by EPSA members.”
All EPSA members, of which Foamex is proudly, are required to use flame retardant material in all expanded EPS products manufactured for the building industry.