BY SAM COURTNEY-GUY
Research showing toxins in the area around Grenfell Tower could pose a heightened risk of cancer and breathing problems has put the brakes on local children’s outdoor play.
Parents who have long made use of nearby green spaces said they feared going back after the analysis of soil samples and debris was published, and a ‘forest school’ nature club for youngsters affected by the tragedy has been brought indoors.
Community gardeners and allotment growers have meanwhile demanded to know whether working the soil and eating food grown in the area has endangered their health.
A team led by Professor Anna Stec of the University of Central Lancashire took soil samples in the six months after the fire struck in June 2017 from six locations up to 1.2km away.
Soil taken 140m from the tower – roughly the same distance as the next closest residential square to its immediate vicinity – was found to have 40 times the typical amount of the carcinogen benzene.
A sample taken around 320m away – about the same distance as Maxilla Gardens – was more than seven times the same guideline, and another taken at the furthest distance was still above it.
Professor Stec said: “Fires release a rich cocktail of pollutants, many of them acutely or chronically toxic.”
Her study said many of the chemicals found in the soil are stable while settled but can cause problems when they come into contact with the skin. It nonetheless warned that “further analysis of the area around the tower is necessary to understand potential health risks”.
Tarik Kaidi, 33, from Shepherd’s Bush, spoke fondly of taking his seven-year-old daughter Aaliya, both pictured, to outdoor activities at Kensington Memorial Park, a short walk away from the tower, but would now stay away.
If our health’s been affected there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.
“It’s stressing me out thinking about it – we’ve had enough to think about since the fire.”
Kids On The Green, a project set up by a youth worker for Grenfell area children, has stopped offering its ‘forest school’ activities outdoors until further notice.
Children’s entertainer Angie Nut, who worked with the group until September, said: “They are trying to bring joy to a very bleak situation.
It’s been very important for children to have the chance to play outside.”
Ms Nut demanded clarity from the council over the fruit and vegetables she grows at an allotment in St Quintin’s Avenue, about 650m from the tower.
She is one of some 1,000 people across Kensington and Chelsea who make use of 50 kitchen gardens set up for communities to grow their own food. Is it safe to eat? I don’t know. I’m scared.”
Chairman of Grenfell United, Natasha Elcock, said: “After being assured by authorities time and again about the risks of pollution, this report is alarming and hugely upsetting to read.
“The community around Grenfell were left to clear debris and soot weeks and months after the fire.
People in our community are worried about what the impact of these toxins are for their health.
“The government are still dragging their heels – no soil testing has started months after Professor Stec’s preliminary findings were published last October.
Testing in the community must start immediately and by immediately, we mean yesterday.”
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “The Government is committed to ensuring the community around Grenfell Tower are kept safe and their long-term health is safeguarded.
The basis of Professor Stec’s report was publicised last year and the Government has established a programme of environmental checks to reassure the community that any risks will be fully assessed and appropriate action taken.
The results of these checks will be published when available and the community will be kept informed.”
The NHS has advised anyone worried about their or somebody else’s health in light of the report to speak to their GP.
Support for those affected by the fire is being offered by Grenfell Health and Wellbeing Service, who can be reached at 020 8637 6279.
The NHS has advised anyone worried about theirs or somebody else’s health in light of the report to speak to their GP.
Support for those affected by the fire is offered by Grenfell Health and Wellbeing Service, which can be reached at 020 8637 6279.