What’s Wrong With These Pictures?
This Is Not What A Corrosion Coupon History Of 0.4 MPY Should Look Like At A 6 Year Old Condenser Water System
The below photographs were taken of pipe removed from an approximate 6 year old open condenser water system following multiple through wall failures.
Corrosion is the second most serious threat to any facility or building property next to fire – yet a far more likely occurrence. With pipe corrosion losses on the rise, the reliable and accurate monitoring of any corrosion control program becomes critical to efficient and trouble free operation.
Often it is not the absence of a corrosion monitoring program which is traced back as the event allowing high corrosion activity to produce a piping failure, but the actual corrosion monitoring test method itself. Corrosion coupons have traditionally served as the standard monitoring tool by facility managers, engineers, corrosion experts, and water treatment firms alike. But with one obvious fault no one recognizes, or admits, until a piping failure occurs. That is:
Corrosion coupons are nearly worthless as a measurement of actual pipe wall loss. After nearly 25 years of making such statements, our comments have never been criticized or refuted by anyone; only agreed quietly behind doors.
In over three decades of involvement in the corrosion field, we have documented the unquestioned reliance on corrosion coupon results as the underlying cause of most major corrosion related piping failures. In such cases, an absolute belief and blind trust in the information provided by corrosion coupon testing has allowed years of runaway corrosion activity to often destroy the piping system beyond repair.
Had low corrosion activity not been reported, at least a closer look into piping conditions been might have been pursued. Trust in the results reported by corrosion coupons, often a hopeful belief, is typically so strong that the most obvious visual signs of a problem are ignored. Blatantly obvious indicators pointing to a high corrosion problem such as rust deposits, thread leaks, and clogged strainers are quickly discounted by favorable corrosion coupon results – and all too often by those responsible for maintaining good corrosion control!
The gross under estimating of corrosion activity by corrosion coupons, often by at least 10 times or greater, is not an entirely unwelcome outcome given that they are the report card upon which the effectiveness of the entire chemical water treatment program and / or oversight program is judged. An obvious conflict of interest exists in promoting the total reliance upon a testing method so clearly flawed in its under reporting of true corrosion conditions. This is especially of issue where years of hands-on experience in the corrosion control field has likely made this fact known, or at very least should have.
In fact, most corrosion authorities are well aware that corrosion coupons do not indicate the wall loss occurring at the pipe itself – they just haven’t informed their clients of this fact!
Of the many factors preventing corrosion coupons from reporting a reasonably accurate corrosion rate measurement, its electrical isolation from the main piping system is the most significant. With corrosion formally defined as an “electro-chemical” reaction, electrical isolation of the corrosion coupon on a plastic insulating post eliminates measurement of the major deteriorating forces within any steel piping system. In addition to the coupon being isolated from any contact with other metal via its plastic mounting post, it is totally isolated from the main piping in a side stream loop. Today, most corrosion coupon racks are pre-fabricated from PVC or some other form of plastic to even further isolate them from any form of electrical or galvanic activity which is, in fact, the corrosion mechanism. Furthermore, the water is filtered of particulates and restricted down in flow – unlike the piping itself, to produce a near sterile environment.
Frequent replacement with a new polished steel coupon every 30 to 120 days prevents any aging of the coupon surface, as well as minimizes any particulate deposition or micro biological influence common in the real world. Of course, this information is rarely known or made available to the clients and property managers so dependant and reliant upon corrosion coupon test results, and whom are under the impression that corrosion coupon results represent the corrosion activity acting against their piping system..
New coupon test reports every 30 to 120 days are accepted as fact and filed as testimony to an effective and well maintained corrosion control program. Never called into question until an unknown corrosion problem produces a piping failure or otherwise becomes too great to ignore. Often, multiple corrosion coupons racks are maintained by different independent water treatment consultants; resulting in follow-up discourse and debate as to whether the 0.25 MPY, 0.28 MPY, or 0.3 MPY corrosion rate was closer to that of the piping system when in reality, all were likely in error by 1,000 % or more.
A typical chronology of events leading to the realization that years of corrosion coupon testing have been totally wrong and completely worthless typically begins with an unexpected piping failure. Such failure then prompts the interest to determine the cause and extent of the problem. A review of the coupon reports show excellent results, offering the reassurance that a localized and not system wide corrosion condition is at fault. Ultrasound, the most accurate and cost-effective method of evaluating pipe condition, is often called upon, and if performed properly, will produce highly accurate and valuable wall thickness data.
A competent and comprehensive ultrasonic investigation and analysis with then often produce wall thickness measurements in direct conflict with years of very favorable corrosion coupon results to initiate further debate. In many examples, a through wall failure of 10 year old 6 in. schedule 40 condenser water pipe having an initial wall thickness of 0.280 in. is proof enough that the years of reported 0.3 MPY corrosion coupon rates, in which case only 0.03 in. of wall thickness would have been lost, have been, to say the very least – wrong!
Nevertheless, the chemical treatment company will side with their own coupon reports that corrosion is under control and all too often find their client very willing to believe such claims. Where independent corrosion consultants are involved, multiple series of parallel corrosion coupon results, generated by different laboratories but typically showing the same low rates, combine as even stronger evidence against a corrosion problem existing.
Ultimately, removed sections of pipe or metallurgical investigation confirms a severe corrosion loss, and at that time a completely new definition of what a corrosion coupon means surfaces.
With irrefutable evidence to a major corrosion problem, chemical treatment representatives and consultants will finally, and only then, admit to their bewildered property owner a new understanding of the situation. That unfortunately, building owners and engineers somehow misunderstood all along what their corrosion coupons actually measured and what their test results really meant. No, as the explanation typically starts, corrosion coupons were never meant to indicate corrosion activity actually occurring in the HVAC cooling system, as the building owner somehow misunderstood, but only to indicate the potential corrosiveness of the treated water against a new clean steel surface.
And that’s the unfortunate reality far too many property owners have learned after its too late! Ultimately, corroded pipe is replaced and the true extent of the corrosion problem is realized. Interior rust deposits are typically present with large scale tuberculation revealing deep under deposit pitting underneath. Metallurgical investigation of failed piping, if performed, will then confirm ultrasonic measurements. In many examples, such severe deterioration has occurred, at rates of 50 MPY in some examples, that saving the system may not be possible.
After 5.5 years of operation, a 17 story New York City luxury condominium property begins experiencing pinhole leaks at the 2 in. schedule 40 threaded steel connections between main condenser water risers and isolation valves to the individual air conditioning units. When the first failed pipe sections are replaced, heavy internal rust deposits and near through thread losses are found. Such deposits are explained away by the chemical treatment company, and confirmed by the mechanical contractor as a localized problem; the result of a galvanic reaction between the black steel pipe and brass shut-off valve – two dissimilar metals. The lack of any dielectric fittings is blamed as the cause.
This speculation toward an installation deficiency is further supported by prior corrosion coupon results indicating low corrosion activity at below 0.5 mils per year (MPY). All threaded pipe fittings are replaced with dielectric fittings and the problem is stated by the piping contractor to have been solved.
One year passes with continued low coupon results until a more serious through wall piping failure occurs at a section of larger 3 in. schedule 40 pipe having a wall thickness of 0.216 in. The replaced section of pipe is heavily laden with tuberculation, and with thick rust deposits at a uniform depth of over 1/2 in. against the interior pipe wall. All removed pipe samples are heavily constricted wih iron oxide tuberculation. No brass or copper fittings are involved to again cite a galvanic corrosion condition. With a documented wall loss of 237 thousandths (0.237 in.) over 6.5 years, or 33 MPY, additional concerns are raised and an ultrasonic piping investigation is conducted by CorrView International, LLC.
A final ultrasonic report relating to over 65 examples of condenser water pipe representative of the building and addressing both largest diameter risers and smallest run-out piping identifies a very high system wide average corrosion rate of near 20-24 MPY, but with areas of random deep pitting to near 45 MPY. All smaller diameter pipe of 3 in. and under is recommended for replacement, as well as the need to establish an aggressive and more effective chemical water treatment program to save the larger condenser water risers.
Our report concludes that high internal deposits now prevent any benefit from the chemical water treatment program to protect the underlying steel pipe. All small diameter threaded pipe is recommended for replacement and prior to an effective chemical cleaning. The isolation of the entire system from the cooling towers via plate and frame heat exchangers is also recommended. In response, a corrosion consultant is hired by the property owners to review all known facts and issues relating to the property; the consultant reaching the conclusion that the ultrasonic report is totally in error and should be ignored.
The consultant recommends changing the chemical water treatment provider and to install a new corrosion coupon rack. A mild TSP chemical cleaning is performed after which the building is advised that the rust issue has been solved and all internal rust deposits have been removed. Corrosion coupon reports from the newly installed coupon rack are provided at 60 day intervals and report low corrosion activity in the 0.2 MPY to 0.4 MPY range. The water treatment consultant reports to the building owners that corrosion activity within their condenser water system is now at the lowest rates realistically possible, and that their corrosion problem has been resolved.
Exactly one year following establishment of the new chemical program and new corrosion coupon rack installation, additional failures occur to the larger 6 in. diameter condenser water risers. Building owners remove more heavily deteriorated and rust laden condenser water piping from throughout the building and begin a massive staged pipe replacement program using extra heavy Type K copper.
CorrView International, LLC is again contracted to perform a follow-up ultrasonic investigation whereby a higher average corrosion rate of near 26 MPY is documented at all areas tested. As part of the investigation, ultrasonic testing is actually performed at the one year old steel corrosion coupon rack itself, and documents a 0.042 in. or 42 thousandths wall loss at the 1 in. schedule 40 steel pipe housing the steel coupon samples.
From an original wall thickness of 0.133 in. for 1 in. ASTM schedule 40 pipe, low wall thickness measurements at near 0.091 in. are recorded – now at or below minimum acceptable values and approaching the 0.072 in. thread cut limit. Closer examination of the coupon rack shows leaks beginning at the threads, in support of the ultrasonic results. Yet despite leaking threads and the conflict between a year long average reported corrosion coupon rate of 0.3 MPY vs. a true measured wall loss of 43 MPY at the steel pipe itself which is housing the corrosion coupons, the corrosion coupon results are presumed by building management and their consultant as accurate.
The same chemical water treatment program and corrosion coupon monitoring is continued for another year while selective pipe replacement is performed.
Additional piping failures prompt a third ultrasonic investigation by CorrView International, LLC, whereby severe pitting identified at the largest 6 in. and 8 in. risers spells doom for the entire condenser water system. With massive pitting throughout the building, no further options exist other than replace the entire condenser water piping system!
Such total reliance on corrosion coupon results is very common. And in fact, most individuals relying on corrosion coupons as an indicator of true corrosion activity system have no comprehension to their true technical role. In some cases, the obvious conclusion that corrosion coupons are in error is not accepted; resulting in the installation of additional coupon racks after the first ones so thoroughly failed.
In fact, corrosion coupons can provide indication to whether the water is more or less corrosive over time, and to whether chemical inhibitors under use are effective. However, they offer very little to no useful information regarding the actual corrosion loss actually occurring at the piping system itself.
Yet, as long as they remain the officially recognized report card upon the services which those recommending its use are graded, and until property owners and operators begin to realize such limitations in its corrosion reporting capability, far more similar corrosion failures will occur.
The Leading Cause Of Pipe Failure At Condenser Water Systems
Despite various corrective measure, advanced failures at condenser water systems are on the rise. Many problems are engineered into the system from the start due to the failure to recognize the impact rust deposits and particulates have on producing higher secondary corrosion levels. In addition, most corrective measure, if they are attempted, fail to provide a solution. Here is why.
Undersized Steel Pipe
A Simple Dial Caliper Measurement Of New Steel Pipe May Reveal Surprising Results
In addition to the many corrosion influences negatively impacting piping systems, many new building properties are constructed using carbon steel pipe which is below factory specification. To the surprise of many, an FM or UL approval, like its ASTM stamp, does not define that the pipe actually meets ASTM thickness standards.
The Decline In The Quality Of Today’s Piping Products Means Greater Corrosion Problems
A large number of negative influences have comined to produce a higher frequency of corrosion problems – often in spite of all precautionary measures taken. Of those, lower quality pipe, undersized pipe, more complex piping layouts, and generally less effective chemical treatment options have produced a “Perfect Storm” contributing to more piping failures.
When Pipe Corrosion At A Fire Protection System Can Cost Lives
The time to learn of a fire pipe corrosion problem is not during an actual fire emergency. Internal rust deposits can, and have, totally blocked water flow through the sprinkler heads – resulting in the loss of human life. More common at dry systems, internal deposits are a serious threat to all fire protection systems.
Fire System Failures
Major Misconceptions Within The Fire Protection Industry
Ignoring the obvious does have serious consequences when it comes to fire protection systems. From the use of thin wall schedule 10 & 7 pipe, to lower quality pipe products, to frequent flow testing which brings in new fresh water, clear and well documented reasons exist to explain the higher corrosion activity found at today’s fire protection systems.
Fire System Corrosion
The Threat Of A High Corrosion Condition To A Fire Sprinkler Line
Often viewed only in terms of water damage in the case of a corrosion induced pipe failure, far more serious concerns exist, although rarely considered. Unlike HVAC piping systems, corrosion activity at fire related piping can impede and in some cases totally block water flow – a potentially life threatening condition during any fire emergency
The Benefits of Ultrasonic Testing in Determining Corrosion Rate and Service Life
Ultrasonic testing provides the most comprehensive, accurate, and cost-effective tool to assess the condition and remaining service life of any piping system. Planned and performed properly, ultrasound offers the first step toward identifying a potential corrosion problem, or for certifying a piping system as fit for service.
Why Not All Pipe Failures Are The Fault Of Your Chemical Water Treatment Provider
Various design elements to any piping system can have dramatic impact upon its corrosion activity. Pipe origin, schedule used, physical layout, and many other unknown factors can produce a pipe failure. And yet they are completely beyond the realm of protection offered by chemical water treatment.
Corrosion By Design
Pipe Corrosion Problems No Water Treatment Program Can Protect Against
Various changes have occurred to mechanical piping designs over the past few decades, with virtually all HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection systems having been affected in some way. Many changes relate to the materials themselves. Major changes in piping design, however, have introduced new corrosion problems no chemical treatment program can stop.
The Benefits and Limitations of Corrosion Coupons
Relied upon for decades as an indicator of corrosion activity within piping systems, corrosion coupons are highly unreliable in most examples, and totally worthless in others. Many of the most damaging corrosion failures have occurred while at the same time corrosion coupons produced excellent results. Here is why.
If Corrosion Activity Is Only 0.4 MPY, What Is Wrong With The Above Picture?
Corrosion coupons reported a 0.4 MPY corrosion rate for 6 years where the actual rate exceeded 25 MPY. Believed implicitly in contrast to multiple leaks and failures, the slow but total destruction of the entire condenser water piping system was the net result. A case history illustrating the threat from relying exclusively upon this highly flawed testing method.
Dry Fire Sprinkler
Fire Protection Contractor – Antifreeze: The Fine Line Between Hero and Defendant
Antifreeze used in dry fire sprinkler systems may solve one problem, but has also proven deadly. Rated a Class 1 flammable liquid, antifreeze can accelerate a fire, create a fireball, and even cause an explosion. Although now restricted to lower concentrations, antifreeze still adds heat value to any fire and introduces new and unknown liability to any such system.
American Welding Society – Understanding Pipe Corrosion Problems
A piping system that satisfies service life demands, requires the recognition of piping design vulnerabilities, effective corrosion monitoring, and the adoption of corrective measurements. With corrosion related failures on the rise, and with generally lower quality pipe being installed, advanced planning and an awareness of potential threats becomes more important.
World Pipelines – Investigation vs. Procedure
Substantially different findings are likely where ultrasonic pipe testing is approached as a forensic investigation based upon known system problems and vulnerabilities, rather than simply a linear based measurement procedure. A critical importance is understanding the inherent corrosion related problems to various piping systems. An adapting investigation will also produce a more definitive answer to any piping problem.
Fire Pipe Corrosion
Fire Protection Contractor – When Pipe Corrosion In a Fire Protection System Can Cost Lives
The time to first learn of a pipe corrosion problem is not during a true fire emergency when lives are in jeopardy. Thinner pipe, more corrosive steel, lower quality galvanizing, foreign pipe, dry systems, MIC – all such negative factors are driving toward higher internal corrosion deposits to render your fire protection system worthless.
Fluid Handling Systems – Finding The Remaining Service Life
Ultrasonic testing is, by far, the most informative diagnostic method available for determining pipe status, as well as extremely cost effective. An effective piping analysis is much more than a spreadsheet of a few wall thickness measurements – requiring careful statistical analysis and practical interpretation of the data.
World Pipelines – Multiple Metering And Monitoring Needs
With no single form of corrosion monitoring capable of proving full coverage to the many different forms of pipe corrosion possible, multiple testing methods are always advised. These should include ultrasonic testing, spool pieces, LPR, regular internal inspection, and a close observance to the often obvious but missed signs of a problem.
A 30+ Year Knowledge Base
Unfortunately, the above is a very common progression of events for many of our clients. Often, greater attention to chemical corrosion control and corrosion monitoring could have saved the system and avoided the problem. In others, a decades prior design flaw or poor choice of pipe supplier may be traced back as the primary fault.
During the 20 years that we have been involved in the field of ultrasonic pipe testing / corrosion monitoring, we have authored various Technical Bulletins for the benefit of our clients. These Technical Bulletins address frequent problem issues to any building owner or operator, and offer both insight as well as reasonable and proven solutions.
We offer below the various categories available, and continue to add new bulletins as time permits.
Interior Rust Deposits, Common Threats, Corrosion Types, Winter Lay-Up, MIC, Corrosion Monitoring and Testing, CUI, Corrosion Coupon Failures, Rust Removal, Reducing Corrosion Threats, Roof Level Corrosion, Drained Pipe, Corrosion Trends, Fire Sprinkler Corrosion, Corrosion At “Free Cooling” Systems
The Impact Of Flow Rate To Higher Corrosion, Inadequate Water Filtration, Piping Layout Design, “Green” Piping Designs
Corrosion Threats, Design Misconceptions, Interior Rust Deposit Threat, Dry Fire System Corrosion, Schedule 10 Pipe, Premature Failures, Clogged Fire Systems, Chemical Control Options, Remediation Choices
Condition Assessment, Due Diligence, Preparation Prior To Renovation, System Evaluation, Expert Witness
Heat Exchangers, Benefits of UT Testing, High Pressure Water Jet Cleaning, Filtration Errors, Chemical Treatment, Condenser Tube Coating, Mold Concerns, Chromate Removal, Growing Threat of Corrosion, Heat Exchanger Tub Coating, Nondestructive Testing
Schedule 40 Limitations, Piping Trends, Hidden Corrosion Threats, Dielectric Insulators, Clamped Grooved Piping, Piping Schedules, Pipe Testing Specification, Roof Pipe Draining, Low Corrosion Guidelines, Dual Temperature Piping Failure
Cold Water Threats, External Corrosion Issues, Fire Reserve Tanks, Interior Pitting, Protective Coatings, Rehabilitation
Improving Heat Transfer Efficiency, Improving Filtering Efficiency, Filter Placement, Poor Performance Causes, Filter Selection Considerations
Chemical Treatment Challenges, Limitations to Water Treatment, Corrosion Coupon Reliance