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November 18, 2010

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Construction materials blamed

RESIDENTS say inflammable construction materials are also to blame for the fire.

A resident surnamed Bao, who lives near the building, picked up a yellowish foamy material and lit it with a lighter. The material, which was being installed on the surface of the building for heat retention before the fire, burst into flames within two seconds, giving off heavy smoke and strong odor, Xinhua news agency reported.

"The inflammable material called polyurethane foaming plastic is what turned the fire into a disaster," Bao said.

A resident surnamed Zhou, whose wife died in the fire, said she repeatedly complained about safety hazards and the workers' behavior.

"My wife told me the workers piled paint and foam plastics on the scaffolding just outside the window. They also smoked on the scaffolding," Zhou said.

Polyurethane foaming (PU) plastic is an organic material widely used as thermal insulation in China.

"They sprayed polyurethane foam liquid onto the facade before covering them with concrete," said Qiu Wensheng, a resident in the building, who worked for a construction material firm.

The material can ignite and burn if exposed to a sufficient heat source.

However, polyurethane foams and extruded polystyrene foams, and molded expanded polystyrene have more than 80 percent market share in China, according to the China Heat and Sound Insulation Material Association (CHSIMA).

Organic thermal insulation materials were blamed for the rapid spread of fire in the CCTV tower in 2009.

PU has banned from use in high-rise buildings in the US and Europe due to the fire risk, according to Erik Gielen, of the Rockwool Group, a producer of inorganic insulation stone wool.

Germany has strict rules under which buildings higher than 22 meters can only use inorganic materials, he said.

Hu Xiaoyuan, general secretary of CHSIMA, said, "China has similar fire safety laws, but with a higher 100-meter threshold."

"But the authorities still need to study the fire retardants added to PU to decide whether it's a quality material," she added.

Modern technology has greatly improved the thermal quality of the inorganic materials. But domestic inorganic insulation products are inferior. Importing inorganic insulation would add significantly to the cost of construction projects.


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