WASHINGTON — The National Institute of Standards and Technology could get a boost in funding to develop a cost-effective and standard method for testing the soundness of concrete foundations under legislation approved in the House this week.
The $4 million provision was added into the broader spending bill by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, who spoke about as many as tens of thousands of homeowners in Connecticut and Massachusetts experiencing crumbling home foundations due to a naturally occurring mineral called pyrrhotite.
“The crumbling foundations crisis has impacted our friends and neighbors in eastern Connecticut — many in my own neighborhood — and it’s had a major financial impact on local municipalities as entire schools now will be closed for repair due to crumbling concrete foundations,” he said.
The crumbling is thought to be caused by pyrrhotite that was found within the aggregate from a quarry that has since been closed. The chemical reacts with water and sunlight to cause the concrete to crumble over time.
“We need a better understanding of the scope of the crumbling foundations crisis and of the mineral pyrrhotite, and this amendment takes us closer to achieving that goal,” Courtney said.
Aside from developing a standardized test for the presence of pyrrhotite in concrete aggregate, NIST would be required to create a risk-rating scale that homeowners, businesses, and municipalities can use to understand what quantity of pyrrhotite poses a danger to the structural integrity of concrete foundations.
Courtney said that without a national standard, it is impossible for homeowners to qualify for assistance. He also said that a risk-rating scale is important for homeowners where there may be trace amounts of pyrrhotite in their foundation walls.
“Right now, any level of pyrrhotite is considered a cancer on a property and makes it unmarketable. This amendment would help homeowners to understand the risks that pyrrhotite poses to their home even if no cracking is present,” he said.
Congressman John Larson also pushed for the NIST funding amendment and noted that the Connecticut delegation “has been working diligently to explore all avenues on the local, state, and federal levels to respond to this crisis and give homeowners and communities the tools they need.”
The $4 million in NIST funding isn’t guaranteed but the House vote does move it a step closer to reality.
The House voted 227-194 to approve the overall $383.3 billion package, which rolls together funding in the next fiscal year for a number of departments and agencies including commerce, justice, interior, and environment.
The Senate has yet to act on these appropriations. Once it does, members from both chambers will need to hammer out a final version for approval.