Toxic gases from PVC did not play a role in killing 17 people at a disastrous German airport fire last year, but a government investigation raises questions about PVC and says burning polystyrene trapped many victims.
The report from a panel of government-appointed fire experts said carbon monoxide killed the victims of the April 16, 1996, fire at the Dusseldorf airport. But it also said PVC added to the cleanup costs, which warrants research on alternatives, and it said rigid PS foam should not have been used in the airport.
``The extremely dense smoke generated by the burning primarily of polystyrene foam generally hindered escape by people and actually prevented escape by almost all those who died,'' the report said. The investigation was conducted by a commission of experts appointed by the prime minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The group released its report in April.
The fire was started when ``unprofessionally performed welding'' ignited PS, and was made worse because of the lack of smoke alarms and early, targeted firefighting, the commission said. The airport also used flammable materials, such as PS foam, that violated building codes.
But the report notes that most of the materials that burned were either PS or PVC, prompting Greenpeace to renew its call for a ban of PVC products in public buildings after the fire. But the Vinyl Institute in Morristown, N.J., hailed the report for saying PVC was only a minor contributor to the fire and ``was not responsible for any of the deaths.''
``The basic conclusion was that PVC didn't cause the problems Greenpeace said it did,'' said the institute's executive director, Robert Burnett. ``The report totally exonerated PVC.''
The report, however, did pin part of the blame for the high cleanup costs on PVC.
``The conclusion can be drawn that the combustion products of the PVC cables along with other highly toxic substances found in the fire debris led to considerable aggravation and cost increase for the cleanup and refurbishment work,'' the report said.
The report also said research urgently is needed to test alternatives to PVC for their performance in fires or in releasing toxic substances. There are no impartial comprehensive studies, the commission said.
Greenpeace toxins campaigner Rick Hind said the report ``confirms that PVC is a problem'' and alternatives need to be looked at.
Plastics News compared translations provided by both Greenpeace and the Vinyl Institute. Direct quotes are taken from the industry translation.