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Public Health England advice on the Grenfell Tower fire


Public Health England advice on the Grenfell Tower fire

Public Health England advice on the Grenfell Tower fire

Advice on air quality:

PHE has been assessing air quality over the past week in relation to the Grenfell Tower fire and this shows no detectable deterioration in air quality as a result of the fire and the wider risk to people's health is therefore minimal.

Advice on asbestos:

We are all exposed to small amounts of asbestos in the air. Asbestos related diseases are typically associated with a long term workplace exposure to high levels of airborne asbestos fibres. The health risk to the public from a single exposure to asbestos is likely to be low given the short duration of exposure, and typically low levels of free asbestos fibres that may have entered the wider environment. It is unlikely that a short one-off exposure will cause asbestos related diseases.

The Grenfell Tower is known to have contained some asbestos containing materials (panels within airing cupboards and in textured ceilings) and during the recent fire these materials will have been damaged. Asbestos fibres will only have formed a small fraction of the smoke and particles released in the fire. Debris that may have contained asbestos will generally have been deposited in close vicinity to the site and the asbestos fibres usually remain bound within the debris. This will be taken into account when arrangements are put in place to clear the site to ensure that workers and local people are not put at any risk.

People with gardens in the local area should continue to use their fruit and vegetables as normal ensuring that they are washed and peeled before cooking or eating.

Background on asbestos

  • Large scale fires involving asbestos containing materials (ACM) are a relatively common occurrence in the UK and can cause significant public concern.
  • There is no direct evidence of long-term health risks from fires involving ACM, although the literature in this area is limited.
  • The available evidence indicates that asbestos exposures of members of the public following fires involving ACM will be very small if appropriate clean-up operations are undertaken.
  • The additional fibre loading of the lungs is generally considered to be insignificant when compared to the total fibre burden from background environmental asbestos fibre exposure.
  • The main health effect from a one-off asbestos exposure or short term low level exposure may be anxiety about potential health effects.
  • A number of factors mitigate against significant exposures of members of the public following a fire involving ACM. These include:
    • not all the ACM present may be involved in the fire;
    • fibres may be entrapped, in larger pieces of material etc.;
    • respirable fibres will be a fraction of the total released;
    • some fibres may be 'denatured' at the temperatures involved;
    • atmospheric dispersion will reduce concentrations; and
    • the duration of exposure will be short.