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Copyright 2017 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.

Dayton Daily News (Ohio)


The Cleveland Browns stadium is clad in the same kind of aluminum panels that were on the doomed Grenfell Tower in London.

In promotional brochures, a U.S. company boasted of the "stunning visual effect" its shimmering aluminum panels created in an NFL stadium, an Alaskan high school and a luxury hotel along Baltimore's Inner Harbor that "soars 33 stories into the air."

Those same panels - Reynobond composite material with a polyethylene core - also were used in the Grenfell Tower apartment building in London. British authorities say they're investigating whether the panels helped spread the blaze that ripped across the building's outer walls, killing at least 80.

The panels, also called cladding, accentuate a building's appearance and also improve energy efficiency. But they are not recommended for use in buildings above 40 feet because they are combustible. In the wake of last month's fire at the 24-story, 220-foot-high tower in London, Arconic Inc. announced it would no longer make the product available for high-rises.

Determining which buildings might be wrapped in the material in the United States is difficult. City inspectors and building owners might not even know. In some cases, building records have been long discarded and neither the owners, operators, contractors nor architects involved could or would confirm whether the cladding was used.

That makes it virtually impossible to know whether such structures as the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel - identified by Arconic's brochures as wrapped in Reynobond PE - are actually clad in the same material as Grenfell Tower, which was engulfed in flames in less than five minutes.

From ABFollowing Grenfell Disaster, UK Stadiums Check Fire Safety

At a Thursday news conference, Cleveland's chief building official confirmed that panels on the city-owned Cleveland Browns' football stadium are "similar if not identical" to those used on the doomed London tower, but said they pose "zero risk to the fans."

Thomas Vanover said the panels were installed differently and that the venue's overall cladding includes many materials.

"From these panels and this installation, there's no risk of anything remotely close to the Grenfell tragedy," Vanover said.

The International Building Code adopted by the U.S. requires more stringent fire testing of materials used on the sides of buildings taller than 40 feet. However, states and cities can set their own rules, said Keith Nelson, senior project architect with Intertek, a worldwide fire-testing organization.

The National Fire Protection Association conducts fire-resistance tests on building materials to determine whether they comply with the international code. Robert Solomon, an engineer with the association, told the AP that the group's records show the U.S.-made Arconic panels never underwent the tests. For that reason, the group considered the products unsafe for use in buildings higher than 40 feet.

Tests conducted by the British government after the Grenfell fire found samples of cladding material used on 75 buildings failed combustibility tests. Solomon said the use of Reynobond PE on the Baltimore Marriott and Browns stadium in particular should be reviewed because of their height.

On buildings that are "higher than the firefighters' ladders," incombustible material must be used, Arconic advises in a fire-safety pamphlet. It warns that choosing the right product is crucial "in order to avoid the fire to spread to the whole building" and that fire can spread extremely rapidly "especially when it comes to facades and roofs."

No one has declared the U.S. buildings unsafe, nor has the U.S. government initiated any of the widespread testing of aluminum paneling that British authorities ordered after Grenfell.

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July 21, 2017


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