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Polystyrene

Volume 131: debated on Wednesday 13 April 1988

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12.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he has any plans to further restrict the use of polystyrene, in the light of the latest research on fire risks; and if he will make a statement.

When polystyrene is used to provide a filling for an article of upholstered furniture it will be required, following proposals in the currently circulated draft regulations, to conform to the requirement for "other fillings", that is, other than polyurethane foam and latex rubber foam.

In view of the dangers perceived by fire officers and the general public in the domestic use of polystyrene foam, especially in ceiling tiles, does my hon. Friend have any plans to extend the furniture studies, which have already been so welcome, into the use of that foam, with a view to safeguarding the public against that fire risk?

As my hon. Friend will know, our attention is focused on polyurethane foam, given its toxic and occasionally tragically lethal capabilities. Our research on polystyrene is admittedly now some years old but comes from the Fire Research Station, and shows that when used as specified, polystyrene tiles are not a significant addition to the fire hazard. However, in the light of the correspondence that my hon. Friend has sent me and his comments today, I shall ask the Fire Research Station to update that earlier report to ascertain whether it can identify a significant hazard.

Is the Minister aware that many people are now very worried about the fire hazards of artificial materials? Will he run a campaign to make it clear to people whether their existing furniture and ceiling tiles are dangerous, for otherwise many people will continue to be utterly confused? They need such information to be able to take sensible and informed decisions.

I can understand the hon. Lady's concern. She will know that we shall be introducing the most rigorous fire prevention regime in the world for foam-filled furniture and furniture covers. We do not have recent information to show that polystyrene presents the sort of danger that the hon. Lady currently suspects. However, as I said earlier, to have complete peace of mind I shall ask the Fire Research Station to take another look at it.