25 Investigates: New push for Massachusetts to address crumbling foundations

DEDHAM, Mass. — A busload of homeowners showed up at the Massachusetts State House Tuesday to ask for help with an issue 25 Investigates first reported on more than a year ago.

Foundations are cracking and crumbling because of concrete contaminated with the mineral pyrrhotite. Pyrrhotite ended up in certain batches of concrete aggregate that came from a Willington, Connecticut quarry.  At least one Massachusetts quarry is also suspected of distributing pyrrhotite, but it has not been publicly identified.

Pyrrhotite is considered a geohazard in concrete because over time – typically 15 to 20 years – it begins to expand and break apart in the presence of water and air. The only solution is replacing those concrete foundations – which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Estimated two-thousand Massachusetts homes have pyrrhotite-contaminated foundations.  Most are in western and central Massachusetts near the Connecticut border.

Lawmakers are considering legislation designed to provide relief.

But any help for homeowners could take years. That’s because lawmakers and lobbyists are still hashing out details on everything from how the program would work, to how much it would all cost, to how Massachusetts would pay for it, to just how many homeowners could be impacted.

The legislation stalled last year as lobbyists for insurers raised technical concerns. But Chris Stark, executive director of the Massachusetts Insurance Federation, said his group supports this year’s bill.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts lawmakers still don’t have a plan yet for how they would fund any relief. Connecticut passed a $12 surcharge on certain homeowners’ insurance to raise millions for its own relief program.

“Is it going to be a small tax?” Rep. Brian Ashe, a Democrat representing the 2nd Hampden district, said. “Is it going to be a surcharge or is it going to be something partially funded by the state? And I think we haven’t got to those parts yet.”

Ashe said the COVID-19 pandemic has also stalled negotiations over the legislation, as lawmakers try to round up more support from leadership.

Meanwhile, impacted homeowners have been trying to get traction on Beacon Hill for years. Homeowners began organizing and holding public forums in 2018.

They want lawmakers to understand how devastating the mineral pyrrhotite can be.

“It’s a terrible stress on the mind, body, and spirit,” homeowner Karen Riani, of Holden, said as she described the costly replacement of her own contaminated foundation.

“Your financial future has just been obliterated,” said Michelle Loglisci, co-founder of the citizen’s group Massachusetts Residents Against Crumbling Concrete.

Logisci said contamination foundations drag down property values, which means fewer tax dollars to support important government services. “The value of your home is gone.”

Angela Allain, who owned a home with a pyrrhotite-contaminated foundation in Monson, said she lost $160,000 on the sale of her home and had to spend $25,000 on an attorney.

“There’s a lot of people turning their back on this because it’s such a big dollar amount to repair the house,” Allain said.

25 Investigates visited a home in the town of Wales in 2021, where homeowner Mike Milanese showed us his failing foundation and the homemade supports he put in to keep his home standing.

“You could literally put your finger through” it, Sen. Anne Gobi, a Democrat representing parts of Worcester and Hampshire counties said. “And Mike’s still living with that situation in Wales right now.”

Gobi sponsored a bill to reimburse impacted homeowners who need new foundations.

She’s also backing another bill to have Massachusetts quarries tested for pyrrhotite to avoid future contamination

Lawmakers tried to force quarries to test last year. But former Republican Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed their plan.

Craig Dauphinais, executive director of the Massachusetts Concrete & Aggregate Producers Association, said most of the concrete producers who are part of his organization are already testing for pyrrhotite anyways.

But he said it’s important for Massachusetts to set its own standards by passing the bill.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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