Grenfell insurers could face legacy claims from asbestos poisoning

Grenfell Tower
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Exclusive: Insurers of Grenfell Tower could face legacy claims from victims if they develop symptoms of asbestos poisoning in later life.

Experts have warned that insurers for the building should reserve against future claims from asbestos poisoning if a link was later proven between lung disease and the inhalation of smoke from the building.

The warning comes as the NHS announced it will fund a £50m screening programme for Grenfell victims, in order to detect potential lung disease.

Edmund Young lawyer at Slater and Gordon said: ”Environmental exposure to asbestos, as a result of a fire in a building containing it, has already been seen in this country before. Claims of this kind are rare but possible and in the aftermath of Grenfell could be something we see a lot more of.

“The nature of asbestos-related illnesses means it is likely to be many years, even decades, before the full extent of the damage is known, but what we do know is a large number of residents and first responders who were potentially exposed that day. These people may now be at risk of developing these debilitating and ultimately fatal diseases and insurers should absolutely plan for the possibility that they may in the future decide to seek help from those found to be responsible.”

The main insurer for the tower is Norwegian insurer Protector Forsikring, which last year said it would face claims of £50m from the blaze. The company’s CEO Sverre Bjerkeli did not respond to a request for comment on whether it was aware of potential legacy claims.

The fire broke out on 14 June last year, killing over 72 people.

Campaigners say traces of asbestos were found in artex in ceilings of the individual flats, and in panels inside airing cupboards of the local authority-owned tower.

There are fears the substance fell over hundreds of homes in low-rise flats blocks east of the now-gutted tower. This means insurers may see future claims beyond those immediately affected by the blaze.

The Grenfell Action Group said in a post on its website: “These same forgotten households are also subject to other hidden dangers that no-one, not a single official or media reporter – has made any public reference to asbestos.”

James Cameron specialist industrial disease solicitor and associate director for Asbestos Justice said: “Victims can make a compensation claim if they have the misfortune of developing something complex in the later life. The average time period for this is anything between 10 to 50 years after the exposure.”

The NHS screening programme will see the NHS and local health groups invest £10m over the next five years on regular health “MOTs” for former Grenfell residents.

A spokesperson for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, however, denied there were concerns over asbestos inhalation.

“As you will see Public Health England has been monitoring the air quality of the site since 14 June 2017 and continue to publish its results,” the spokesperson said.

“It has found no asbestos in the air.”

 

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