Tests which could discover whether toxic chemicals hazardous to health polluted the immediate area around the site of last year’s devastating fire at Glasgow School of Art have not been carried out.

Glasgow City Council, which is responsible for monitoring the environment around the partially-demolished building, confirmed that there had been no investigation, claiming that there was no threat to public health and that any suggestion there was could be “scaremongering”.

This newspaper previously revealed that flammable ceiling and insulation materials of the same type which caused the fire at Grenfell Tower in London, in which 72 people died, were used in the fateful refurbishment of the Mackintosh building. These also give off, when burned, poisonous gases, such as hydrogen cyanide, and potentially deadly particulates.

According to the academic who has carried out an independent report into toxic pollution in soil and buildings around Grenfell, “Fire releases a rich cocktail of pollutants, many of them acutely or chronically toxic.”

The 'Mack' site is on Garnethill in Glasgow, close to three schools and near to Sauchiehall Street, where the ABC entertainment venue also burned down in the fire. A council spokesperson said, “Our public health expert does not believe that any traces of chemicals in the environment resulting from the fire at GSA represents any risk to public health and any suggestion otherwise could result in scaremongering.”

There has also been no health screenings of residents who were forced to leave their homes, or those who were at the ABC when the fire broke out last June, in what an experienced firefighter described as an unprecedented "fireball".

A spokesman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said, “The board hasn’t carried out research into any potential health issue due to the fire. In general, the health effects of short-term emissions like this are small and difficult to detect.

“In addition, it would also be difficult to define the group at potential risk as people near the scene that day would not necessarily be a resident in the area.”

Monitors in the centre of Glasgow measure air quality and log levels of ozone, nitrogen dioxide and particulates PM10 and PM2.5 (references to the particle size in micrometers). However they do not identify the kind of particulates, a spokesperson for the environmental agency Sepa confirmed.

Sepa did carry out air tests in the immediate aftermath of the fire but the responsibility for these then passed to the city council.

Analysis of city monitors shows spikes in gases and particulates around the time of the fire, June 16, and after and when demolition of a substantial part of the unsafe building began in July.

The flammable insulation used in the ceilings of the Mack restoration was of the same type as that used in the Grenfell Tower cladding, It was 100mm PIR (the acronym for polyisocyanurate) on a breathable polyethylene membrane, which is around 50 per cent cheaper than non-flammable materials like Rockwool. When burned PIR and the membrane produce significant toxins including hydrogen cyanide.

Anna Stec, who is Professor of Fire Chemistry and Toxicology at the University of Central Lancashire, is recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on fire hazards and science. In a paper authored with her colleague T Richard Hull on the fire toxicity of building insulation materials, like PIR, the pair cautioned: “Modern, lightweight building materials are cheaper to produce, transport and erect and offer improved thermal insulation, allowing more efficient temperature control….However, in comparison to traditional materials many insulation materials present a greater fire hazard, being less effective fire barriers, more combustible and having higher fire toxicity".

Stec, who is also an expert witness at the Grenfell Tower fire enquiry, carried out an investigation into the immediate environment around the Grenfell site along with a team from her university. Dust and debris from the fire, which broke out in June 2017, was found to contain toxins which could cause cancer and asthma. The surrounding area in London’s Notting Hill had been polluted in what an independent investigation called "significant environmental contamination".

Soil samples taken up to 1.2km from the tower by her team found that the levels of toxic chemicals found were “many times higher than normal”, dismissing any suggesting that they could have been present before the fire. Sampling took place six months after the fire and then at 17 months.

She said in her independent report published last month, “Fire releases a rich cocktail of pollutants, many of them acutely or chronically toxic. There is an increased risk of a number of health problems to those in the local area, from asthma to cancer”.

Among the toxins and harmful chemicals discovered were:

+ Char samples from balconies up to a 100 metres from the tower were contaminated with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which pose an increased risk of developing chronic conditions from asthma to cancer.

+ Soil samples 140 metres away found PAH levels at up to 160 times greater than soil from other urban areas.

+ Phosphorous flame retardants – of the kind used in insulation foams and furniture which are potentially toxic to the nervous system.

+ Concentrations of benzene, another carcinogen, in quantities up to 40 times higher than that normally found in urban soil.

(Waiting on an MSP or councillor quote...)