Greenpeace is using an April 11 fire at the Dusseldorf Airport in Germany that killed 16 people to renew its call for a ban of all PVC products in public buildings. The fire caused smoke that filled arrival and departure areas and the railway station below the terminal. People were suffocated in a lounge area, and in an elevator jammed between floors.
Besides the 16 dead, 60 others were hospitalized.
The fire apparently started when maintenance workers who were doing welding on a roof inadvertently melted a sealant News reports from Germany said the sealant dripped onto a false floor containing electrical wiring, and caused PVC-covered cables to smolder.
The reports said the smoldering cable wires gave off cyanide, chloride, carbon monoxide and dioxin fumes.
The terminal reportedly was crowded with more than 2,500 people when the fire broke out.
Rolf Buhl, environmental affairs manager for the European Vinyl Corp. of Brussels, Belgium, Europe's largest PVC producer, said in a May 28 telephone interview that the reports on the dioxin contamination were exaggerated by the media, and that Greenpeace's renewed call for a ban on PVC is an ``old story.''
``Greenpeace is using PVC as a scapegoat,'' Buhl said. ``They see this tragedy as one more reason to repeat their request for a total ban on PVC, but the authorities have been more judicial.
``The authorities have not blamed any one material for the tragedy, but there has been massive prejudgment by the media and self-declared experts,'' Buhl said.
The city of Dusseldorf established a commission to investigate the fire and the causes of deaths, while prosecutors are pursuing their own investigations, Buhl said.
He acknowledged dioxin and other toxic substances were found in the aftermath of the fire, but said traces of such substances would be found after any fire and could be produced by the burning of a variety of materials.
Buhl refuted claims of widespread dioxin and toxic substance contamination, saying he believes the commission investigating the fire would provide more information about such issues.
German prosecutors are considering criminal charges against the maintenance workers, the designers and builders of the airport building, as well as airport managers who allegedly waited more than 30 minutes after the fire was detected before they called firefighters.
Reports said the building was not equipped with smoke detectors nor with other standard fire safety devices.
Business Insurance, a sister publication to Plastics News, said May 20 that the fire was one of Germany's largest insured fires, with damages estimated between $208.6 million and $651.9 million.
Also, Business Insurance quoted an executive of Nordstern Allgemaine Versicherungs-AG, the airport's insurance company, as saying the building may be demolished because of the large amount of dioxin contamination found within it.
An attempt to contact the Dusseldorf Commissioner for Environmental Affairs for further comment was unsuccessful.
The commission established to investigate the fire is scheduled to release its findings in mid-July.