Concrete tainted with a little-known mineral called pyrrhotite is putting thousands of Massachusetts homes at risk, 25 Investigates reported on Tuesday.
The primary source for that tainted material is believed to be a quarry in Willington, Connecticut. But as more Massachusetts homes - including a couple as far east as Holden and Grafton - test positive for pyrrhotite, experts are now looking into the possibility that Massachusetts may have at least one pyrrhotite tainted quarry of its own, 25 Investigates has learned.
A pyrrhotite-tainted foundation not only destroys a home’s value but can ruin the homeowner’s finances. Now, thousands of homeowners face a difficult and costly decision – what to do about their compromised foundation?
In part two of our in-depth report on failing foundations, we look at the impact of a pyrrhotite-tainted foundation and the options available to homeowners.
Few know the devastation of learning your home is ruined by pyrrhotite like Mike Milanese. The basement of his Wales, MA home is cracking and crumbling.
“These walls are bowing, they’re bowing in. So I put these up as a kind of a band-aid to prolong the agony,” he told investigative reporter Ted Daniel pointing to the wood logs he placed across his basement to prop up the walls.
The retired union carpenter says his foundation was poured in the early 90s with concrete aggregate from a Willington, CT quarry. The quarry sits on a large vein of pyrrhotite that runs along the northeast into Canada. Rock from that quarry was also trucked across state lines into Massachusetts.
Pyrrhotite is a mineral that ended up in certain batches of concrete poured into foundations of homes. It is considered a geohazard in concrete because over time – typically 15 to 20 years – pyrrhotite begins to expand and break apart in the presence of water and air.
So far, it has been detected in nearly 2,000 homes in Central Massachusetts towns along the Connecticut border. Recently, homes containing pyrrhotite were discovered in Holden and Grafton.
“Nothing appeared for 20 years. To the day, 20 years later, we noticed all these little cracks in the wall,” Milanese recalls. “It basically blows up and falls apart, and that’s what’s happening.”
Milanese will need a new foundation. But that’s no easy task; he’s on a fixed income.
25 Investigates traveled to Connecticut to see the process of replacing a pyrrhotite-tainted foundation.
At a job site in Willington, CT, a massive hydraulic jack lifts the home, then the foundation is ripped out and replaced. The project is not only complicated but it’s also costly. A job like the one in Willington runs approximately $300,000, according to Don Childree of Don Children General Contractor of South Windsor, CT, who specializes in foundation replacements.
“The problem exists in Massachusetts, but there’s no funding available,” said Childree in response to how prevalent the pyrrhotite problem is in Massachusetts. “If there’s no funding, you’ve just lost the biggest investment you ever made in your life, which is normally your home.”
Childree believes the cost of replacing a foundation is the biggest impediment for homeowners and, as a result, the number of impacted homes is likely higher.
In 2017, Connecticut lawmakers created a program to reimburse homeowners up to $175,000 to fix pyrrhotite contaminated foundations. The money comes from state bonding and a $12 surcharge on home insurance policies.
Massachusetts State Senator Anne Gobi was a similar safety net for Massachusetts homeowners. The democrat who represents Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire and Middlesex counties, has been studying the problem of crumbling foundations for several years. She filed legislation that would create a Crumbling Foundation Reimbursement Fund. A hearing for that bill is scheduled for early next year.
“We absolutely have to have something in place to make sure that we can help people out,” she said. “If this was a natural disaster or a tornado had gone through and taken out a home and taken out buildings we’d step up to the plate and help. I look at this in the same exact way.”
Senator Gobi says pyrrhotite contaminated aggregate may have also been distributed by at least one Massachusetts quarry. She says she’s working with experts to determine the source and the number of impacted homes.
The surest way to confirm the presence of pyrrhotite in concrete is to remove a chunk of a home’s foundation and have it sent to a lab. The cost of a core test can run upwards of $4,000. The state of Massachusetts will reimburse most of the cost of a testing home’s foundation but not for its replacement. If the results come back positive, the homeowner is expected to disclose that before a sale. Currently, homeowner’s insurance will not cover the cost of replacing a pyrrhotite-tainted foundation. But this fall the State Department of Insurance told insurance companies that they cannot cancel a homeowner’s policy or raise their rates following a positive core test.
Meanwhile, Mike Milanese, whose Wales home foundation is crumbling and in need of repair, remains hopeful and is holding on for help. He says selling it is not an option. The pyrrhotite has reduced the value of his home “pennies on the dollar,” he says. But how long he can wait depends on how long his foundation is able to hold out.
“There’s nothing wrong with the house. It’s the foundation. I’m not looking to sell my house. I want to live in it,” he said.
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