The June 14 fire at Grenfell Tower in London was an awful tragedy. Investigators are still exploring what happened, but the early official reports are that plastics did play a role in the rapid spread of the flames.
So this disaster, which has claimed at least 79 lives, was preventable. In a sense, that's true of most major fires. Experts know how to prevent fires from happening, how to slow their spread and how to minimize damage and loss of life.
But this case, with its apparent combination of the wrong construction material and a building design without enough sprinklers or fire escapes, was a disaster because too many people made decisions that did not put safety first.
When I first learned about the fire and saw reports about burning foam, it reminded me of the 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., which killed 100 people. You may remember, it's the fire that happened when the band Great White used pyrotechnics in a show that ignited foam that had been installed in the walls and ceiling as sound insulation.
In that case, court testimony later revealed that the nightclub installed inexpensive foam instead of a fire-resistant version that would have cost twice as much. Could that be the problem at Grenfell Tower, too?
In the early aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, I was skeptical of eyewitness reports that the fire appeared to spread rapidly through plastic foam sandwiched in decorative cladding on the side of the buildings. Who would use flammable polyethylene foam when flame-retardant materials were clearly available?
But as we learn more from investigators, that seems to be exactly what happened. Many people are to blame — although I'm skeptical that anyone will actually accept responsibility.
As with the Grenfell Tower disaster, the foam at The Station wasn't the only problem. One major one: The building should have had sprinklers.
I hope that fire safety engineers will thoroughly investigate all the problems at Grenfell Tower and come back with specific recommendations so that we can prevent a future tragedy. The proper role of plastics materials and flame-retardant chemicals need to be fully explored.
And, most important, there needs to be action taken by building code bodies, legislators, material manufacturers and others to prevent this from happening again.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of "The Plastics Blog." Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.