There is now extensive international concern at the toxic effect of uPVC in buildings in fire meltdown situations. In addition to this, the bulk storage of uPVC in manufacturing, warehousing and recycling facilities also poses a serious fire risk. A major fire in a plastics recycling plant in August, 1997, resulted in dioxin levels "sixty six times higher than Ontario Provincial Government standards."

Friends of the Irish Environment have written to all the fire authorities in Ireland asking for their experiences and recommendations. FIE has also written to the Minister for the Environment, pointing out that the revised Building Codes draw attention to the danger of push out PVC windows in the upper floors of new buildings, ignoring the equal threat posed by both new bungalows and our older hotels.

The Dusseldorf Airport Fire

The worst recent fire involving uPVC was at Dusseldorf Airport. In April 1996, a fire at there caused the death of 16 people. The cause was identified as the result of sparks from a welders torch igniting uPVC cables. Because of the extent of cabling involved, and the quick spread of fire, major toxic gas emissions, such as hydrogen chloride, were created. While the victims of the fire died through smoke inhalation, the unexpected longer term consequence was that large parts of the airport were found to be contaminated with high levels of dioxins and furins. A major, expensive and time consuming decontamination programme has been required before building work can be commenced on restoring the affected section of the airport to use. A similar situation arose in a uPVC cable fire in the Dusseldorf Telephone Exchange in 1988. The fire was easily contained, the heavy dioxin contamination of the building resulted in three years cleaning up to remove the damage at a cost of nearly $12 million.


The Fire Brigades Union was established in 1918 for Fire Brigade workers in Britain, it is thus a long-established and very reputable body with a clear knowledge and concern about health and life risk issues surrounding fires. Following its consultation with the uPVC issue, the Union took the remarkable step of issuing an open letter on 30th September, 1996, supporting Greenpeace's recommendation to seek alternative materials to uPVC. Serious fire risks are clearly posed by the difficulty of emergency evacuation from many uPVC windows. The very recent, and now, dramatically growing use of uPVC on external doors raises serious issues of their behaviour in fire conditions.

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