Maker of panels in London fire says builders control usage

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ATLANTA (AP) — The U.S. company that manufactured panels on a London apartment tower where at least 80 people perished in an inferno has quit selling them for high-rises because it has no control over their installation, a top company executive said Monday.

Arconic Inc. is continuing to work with investigators to determine what caused the flames to spread so rapidly at Grenfell Tower on June 14, interim CEO David Hess told investors during an earnings call.

"Cladding systems contain various components selected and put together by architects, contractors, fabricators and building owners, and those parties are responsible for ensuring that the cladding systems are compliant under the appropriate codes and regulations," the company said in a news release Monday.

About 12 days after the blaze, the company announced it would discontinue making its Reynobond PE panels available for high-rises.

That decision was made out of "an abundance of caution as Arconic does not control the ultimate design and installation of the final cladding system," the company said.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to those who have lost so much," Hess added Monday.

An Associated Press review this month found that some building owners in the U.S. were unaware that the same Reynobond panels, which feature a polyethylene core, were used on their buildings as well. Polyethylene is combustible, according to federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In many cases, building owners and regulators did not know the product was used on their structures, or exactly how it was applied. In several cases, old building records had been destroyed.

Among U.S. buildings that appeared to have used this cladding is the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel, which towers more than 30 stories over the city's harbor; the Cleveland Browns' stadium; and a school in Alaska, according to Arconic brochures. Cleveland's chief building official said the panels on the city-owned stadium are "similar if not identical" to those on the London tower, but were installed differently and pose no risk to fans.

No one has declared any of the U.S. buildings unsafe, nor has the U.S. government ordered the widespread testing of building panels that British authorities ordered after the London catastrophe.

But in the wake of the London fire, samples were collected from the exterior of the hotel in Baltimore, and test results are expected soon, a Marriott spokesman has said.

Meanwhile, at least three federal lawsuits seeking class action status this month accuse Arconic of failing to disclose the dangers of Reynobond PE.

"Despite the known flammability of the Reynobond PE panels, resulting in prohibitions against installing them in high-rises in the U.S. and Europe, Arconic sold millions of dollars of the flammable panels for use in projects Arconic knew were inappropriate and presented a fire hazard," lawyers for Janet L. Sullivan wrote in a lawsuit filed in New York's southern district.

Shareholders say they lost money when Arconic's stock price dipped following the deadly fire.

Arconic was formed in 2016 when its predecessor Alcoa Inc., one of the world's largest aluminum producers, split into two companies. It has corporate offices in Pittsburgh and New York. Reynobond has been sold since it was first produced in 1989 at a company plant in Eastman, Georgia.

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