Grenfell firefighters’ guard of honour at the five year anniversary of the fire (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Up to 12 firefighters who battled the deadly Grenfell Tower inferno have reportedly been diagnosed with rare cancers after experiencing high levels of exposure to contaminants. Experts fear there could end up being more than 20 cases linked to the west London blaze in June 2017, which killed 72 residents.

According to a Mirror newspaper investigation, the majority of the diseases diagnosed among crews are digestive cancers and leukaemia, for which there is no cure. Analysis of soil, debris and charred samples of insulation boards used on the tower revealed heightened concentrations of cancer‑causing chemicals.

During the blaze, firefighters were forced to wait in the block’s smoke-logged basement for up to six hours. Many others stayed in their contaminated suits for more than ten hours. Research by the Fire Brigades Union and the University of Central Lancashire found crews are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer if they remain in their personal protective equipment for more than four hours after a fire.

Four years ago Socialist Worker reported analysis that the soil in the area up to a mile from Grenfell Tower was toxic. Professor Anna Stec of the University of Central Lancashire said she already had “datasets that indicate a number of toxins that have not yet been measured by Public Health England (PHE)”. 

But no effective action was taken. At public meetings in the aftermath of the fire, PHE spokespeople tried to reassure people that there was no danger of toxins in the air. A statement released on 21 June 2017 said it believed “the risk to people’s health from air pollution around the Grenfell Tower site to be consistently low”.

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