Establishing The Hard Undisputable Facts Toward A Successful Case
As we have stated to our clients many times over, “The deterioration of a piping system after 75 years of service is an expected and unavoidable physical act of nature. That same level of deterioration in 2-1/2 years is someone’s fault.” In a growing number of examples, premature piping failures are being looked at from a litigation viewpoint; with massive financial losses common due to replacement costs, lost tenant confidence and revenue, and water damages if incurred. Piping failures are clearly on the rise due to a large number of contributing factors well documented throughout this Internet site.
Financial losses of over $10 million are not unrealistic for a large scale piping failure. The failure of a single 2 in. galvanized steel pipe fitting caused one Philadelphia building property over $8 million in water damage alone. To one New York City property – a $1.1 million loss after a condenser water piping failure flooding 10 floors that was in fact predicted to occur. And to a large Texas facility, more than $20 million in losses.
While there are clear examples of fault, such as the deliberate substitution to a thinner pipe schedule or lower quality foreign piping products contrary to design specifications, many examples of pipe failure exist in the more blurry and more difficult to define realm of multiple causes and contributing factors.
Where a failure has occurred and the problem pipe removed, metallurgical testing can sometimes define the specific cause of the failure and resolve the issue. A single weld failure due to poor workmanship is one such example. Metallurgical testing may answer the question entirely, or instead may point to many other possible initiating causes.
Widespread internal corrosion may have been caused by poor clean-out and passivation of the metal, the lack of chemical water treatment the first few months, as well as the actions or inactions of the building owners and operators, water treatment contractor to maintain the chemical feed equipment. Such a large volume of factors typically influence a corrosion related piping disaster that upon first inspection, it is virtually impossible to assess cause and therefore direct fault and responsibility.
Rarely One Simple Answer
Different piping systems are impacted by entirely different corrosion issues and causes. Internal corrosion issues are completely separate from external corrosion events. Corrosion activity at domestic hot and cold water systems can vary greatly. Dry fire pipe corrosion is a completely separate entity from wet fire sprinkler systems. Hot water heating and cold water pipe, often grouped together in the HVAC role, have completely different vulnerabilities. In fact, a simple failure at a condenser water system has many potential causes and issues to address:
- Was the piping system chemically cleaned, fully flushed, and effectively passivated?
- Was chemical treatment provided immediately and monitored effectively?
- Was the pipe added to an existing system of older piping?
- Has the pipe been drained for freeze protection?
- Are dead-end, crossover, and low flow zones present to the piping layout?
- Did the failure occur near a low flow area?
- How well have chemical records been maintained?
- What is the source country of the pipe?
- Is threaded schedule 40 pipe installed?
- Is seamed pipe involved? And is the seam defective or incomplete?
- Is unproven and questionable corrosion control technology involved?
- Does the ASTM stamp on the pipe match the design specifications?
- Is water filtration provided? And if so, is it properly installed?
- Is there a galvanic issue involved?
- Are the inappropriate piping materials installed for the service?
- What corrosion monitoring has been performed? And how often?
- Have corrective actions been taken?
- And the listing continues…
Interests Change Perspective
Assigning responsibility for any piping failure is always a complex issue often related to the individuals performing the investigation or repair, and their own potential interest in the final results. Many contractors will gladly change out pipe upon each failure without recommending and investigation to the cause of its failure. A piping design engineer creating multiple future dead end and low flow areas for particulates to settle is likely to blame the chemical treatment provider, while the chemical treatment provider will cite the filtration unit as unsatisfactory to capture rust particulates. The water filtration representative may site the need for larger filtration units to capture more iron oxide corrosion by-product, rather than investigate the cause of a high iron oxide load.
The new chemical treatment provider is typically blamed for prior years of corrosion control, or lack of it, from other vendors possibly decades before. The supplier of ERW welded seamed pipe will blame water filtration and corrosion control for its premature failure, while the chemical treatment provider will in turn cite an incomplete and defective manufacturer’s weld seam.
Its often an endless conflict based upon generally inaccurate assumptions and erroneous data provided by experts paid to produce findings in one direction or another. In the worst examples we have seen, individuals having nothing whatsoever to do with an issue have been pulled into conflicts quite unfairly, and based entirely upon defective argument. As effectively as a proper piping failure investigation can direct blame, it can also provide substantative evidence to the lack of any culpability.
Where To Start
A thorough review of all known hard facts relating to the issue, and a critical review of all available diagnostic testing or laboratory reports is certainly a first step to any successful legal case.
With so many different contributing causes of a corrosion problem and resulting piping failure, a most important next step is to perform a thorough and complete ultrasonic based investigation. Where a specific failure has occurred, metallurgical testing is unquestionably the best first investigative tool. After that, ultrasound will define whether the problem exists elsewhere, and to what severity.
Ultrasound will define specific areas for further metallurgical analysis; providing far greater relevance to a corrosion problem than where pipe is cut out randomly, where the pipe is easiest to access, or based upon some other speculative basis. A finding of widespread corrosion loss throughout a large condenser water system would dispel argument made by the chemical treatment provider to a filtration problem alone, or a contractors suggestion to the failure to install dielectric fittings at 2 in. brass strainer blowdown valves. Since wall loss is directly proportional to the size and volume of internal rust deposits and tuberculation, ultrasonic testing can precisely direct a remote video inspection of the pipe to provide incredibly illustrative visual proof to the corrosion damage incurred.
Ultrasound is accurate, reliable, cost-effective, and if performed property, will produce a clear piping assessment. It will define if a problem is localized due to a low flow condition, or widespread throughout the facility. An ultrasonic test report which provides a spreadsheet of numbers for someone else to decipher and analyze is rarely of any benefit – even to most mechanical consulting engineers.
An ultrasonic thickness report producing results completely outside the realm of possibility, as we have seen in many examples, is far worse and greatly detrimental to any case. In contrast, it is the ultrasonic test results in combination with an investigator also well familiar with corrosion, plant operations, the inherent vulnerabilities of different piping systems, specific corrosion issues, and common piping failure mechanisms, that greatly amplifies its value.
Defining a corrosion problem or piping failure event that is proven ultrasonically is a major benefit in most beginning litigation cases. Often, it is necessary to further discount other potential contributing factors in order to accurately and precisely focus blame. Presenting investigative findings with evidence that is beyond any possible argument or opposing rebuttal often results in settlement.
A final written report analysis is submitted, along with any appropriate recommendations likely to benefit building operations.
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