Pyrite + Mica | Continuing Problems

MICA

02 June 2016

Significant problems with construction materials re-emerged this week when RTÉ broadcast a Prime Time special on mica infested blocks in Donegal (See “Crumbling Donegal Homes“). This is a major structural problem for homes affected and in many cases complete demolition and rebuilding is the only remedy, similar to pyrite problems identified in concrete blocks. Mica may affect up to 5,000 homes according to local engineer Damien McKay on Ocean FM (Listen here).

Members of the public who expect this problem to go away will be sorely disappointed. We have seen a re-occurrence of pyrite in a number of developments in Mayo and Dublin. Two housing schemes in Dublin and one in Louth were demolished as recently as 2014.

In 2014, former Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, promised that “The Building Control Amendment Regulations (BCAR) set out to prevent the future re-occurrence of pyrite damage” (See here). BCAR SI.9 of 2014 places very onerous administrative and record keeping duties on professionals, contractors and owners of all building types but no checks on defective material have been put in place.

Under their new regulations (BCAR SI.9) a home cannot be occupied until an architect or engineer signs off and this means warranting 100% that all of the building materials are “proper” and free of defects. Phil Hogan actually said so- “If anyone signs a statutory certificate for a building which subsequently proves to be non-compliant, they can be held legally liable for the consequences”. The Department of the Environment may have intended this system to be a guarantee, a one stop shop for remedying defects quickly.

Fundamentally the BCAR SI9 process is a ‘reinforced system of self-certification’ that relies on individuals’ insurance policies in the event of defects being discovered post completion. However available insurance policies do not cover pyrite, mica and defective building materials.

Consumer redress from suppliers is not certain either. Developers, builders, manufacturers and suppliers involved in a six year old legal case involving pyrite contamination are still awaiting the outcome of a legal case that has gone all the way to Europe. This case is, “on its way to becoming the longest running and most expensive court case in the history of the State” (see link here).

The responsibility for monitoring, inspecting and regulating the construction materials sector under EU Regulations resides with the Department of the Environment who have appointed an existing member of staff in each of the Local Authorities to undertake market surveillance measures in respect of all construction materials.

in 2014 a Government report submitted to Brussels confirmed that Local Authorities were not  actively inspecting the materials sector due to lack of resources. There has been no increase in staffing for market inspections by Local Authorities in the intervening period (see report here).

With a cost per house to remediate pyrite at €64,000 per house and the cost of rebuilding a pyrite affected home at over €180,000, who is protecting the consumer?

For professionals involved under BCAR they are certifying absolute guarantees for buildings which are being supplied by an unregulated materials industry, not covered by Professional Insurance, exposing certifiers to significant personal liability. Purchasers are still facing at years of costly litigation with no guarantee of success.

In an interview in the RTÉ programme, the head of the NSAI called for a more robust proactive Independent Local Authiority Building Control system. It is time for the State to meet their own obligations, not just protect the EU market but also to protect homebuyers, instead of relying on a paper trail which does nothing to prevent recurring problems with pyrite and other defective materials.

Download Report here: 2014 DJEE National Sector Specific Market Surveillance Programme

Other posts of interest:

Highland Radio – Latest Donegal News and Sport » Donegal County Council to foot bill of council homes affected by mica

Donegal Pyrite update | BRegsForum

Dáil questions: Mica in Donegal – 17 September 2014 

Mica Action Group: Latest News

Newstalk – Donegal Homes Crumbling

DECLG on Pyrite and Mica: October 2012 

Pyrite

Department of Environment regulatory failure | PYRITE 10 years on

The €64,000 question: How big is the pyrite problem? | BRegsForum

New Regulations will Prevent Disastrous Building Failures in Future – Minister Hogan – MerrionStreet

Review group on pyrite issue has not held any meetings – Independent.ie

More homeowners sue developer over pyrite – The Sunday Business Post

Pyrite legal battle heads for early finish – Independent.ie

Was pyrite discovered in concrete blocks in 2013?

5 thoughts on “Pyrite + Mica | Continuing Problems

  1. Damien McKay

    Great piece on the true facts of the new building regulation systems. The Government need to take responsibility by setting up an Independant Construction Regulatory Building Control Authority.

    Reply
  2. Michael O'Neill

    I have done previous reading on Mica which did not raise any red flags.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mica#Properties_and_uses

    On the contrary, it is described as

    Properties and uses[edit]
    The mica group represents 37 phyllosilicate minerals that have a layered or platy texture. The commercially important micas are muscovite and phlogopite, which are used in a variety of applications. Mica’s value is based on several of its unique physical properties. The crystalline structure of mica forms layers that can be split or delaminated into thin sheets usually causing foliation in rocks. These sheets are chemically inert, dielectric, elastic, flexible, hydrophilic, insulating, lightweight, platy, reflective, refractive, resilient, and range in opacity from transparent to opaque. Mica is stable when exposed to electricity, light, moisture, and extreme temperatures. It has superior electrical properties as an insulator and as a dielectric, and can support an electrostatic field while dissipating minimal energy in the form of heat; it can be split very thin (0.025 to 0.125 millimeters or thinner) while maintaining its electrical properties, has a high dielectric breakdown, is thermally stable to 500 °C (932 °F), and is resistant to corona discharge. Muscovite, the principal mica used by the electrical industry, is used in capacitors that are ideal for high frequency and radio frequency. Phlogopite mica remains stable at higher temperatures (to 900 °C (1,650 °F)) and is used in applications in which a combination of high-heat stability and electrical properties is required. Muscovite and phlogopite are used in sheet and ground forms.[11]

    So where someone is suggesting it is causing some kind of building issue I would like to put it to them to substantiate their claim. If it really is an issue, the industry needs to know about it.

    Lets start the ball rolling on this by simply stating:

    “Someone needs to research Mica as a material and then explain to the rest of us how it could cause the problems as described.”

    Reply
  3. Michael O'Neill

    Finally (for today!) here is a link I was sent in relation to an alert from Roadstone re new standards for block strength

    https://www.roadstone.ie/know-concrete-blocks/

    = = = = =
    The minimum strength for the use of solid masonry units (Dense and Lightweight) in Ireland is 7.5N/mm2 in line with the Current building regulations Technical Guidance Documents part A – Please refer to Clause 1.1.3.5

    Concrete block strength descriptions have been updated in line with IS EN 771-3
    = = = = =

    It all reads well.

    However…

    If the blocks are made with cement that has gone “off”, or if the aggregate has Pyrite in it or if the mix or the site or the factory equipment was contaminated with salt, then merely increasing a specification on paper may not have the desired effect

    Reply

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