Crumbling Foundations: State DOT Says No Bridges Affected by Failing Concrete

Ed. Note: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to John Patton as the president of the J.J. Mottes company. He is, in fact, a spokesperson.

Officials with the state Department of Transportation told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters they are confident no bridges potentially serviced by J.J. Mottes Company are at risk of failing.

J.J. Mottes concrete may have been involved in hundreds of residential foundation failures, as outlined in a July 21 Troubleshooters report.

The University of Connecticut is also reviewing records to gather all available information regarding concrete supplied to campus projects by J.J. Mottes Company.

The school's reaction comes a day after NBC Connecticut cameras captured a light blue and white J.J. Mottes truck pouring cement for an addition at the Radcliffe Hicks building on campus.

This discovery followed repeated denials by university officials that the company performed any jobs there since at least the mid-1990s, including any work for the billion-dollar "UConn 2000" project.

UConn first started keeping its own purchasing records in 1995.

Deputy spokesman Tom Breen said Thursday UConn has no records of current or previous contracts paid to J.J. Mottes because the school pays general contractors directly. Breen says the school doesn't keep records of payments from general contractors to subcontractors.

In a full statement released by UConn Friday, Breen writes:

"We’re not aware of any problems with concrete quality that would indicate a pattern, but we’re reviewing our records to make sure we have all available information. The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our highest priority, and our Division of Public Safety works hard every day to ensure our facilities are safe."

More than 125 viewers from east of the Connecticut River contacted the Troubleshooters in the time since our original investigation with details of how their concrete basement walls failed or failing. Contractors say there are many more.

All foundations need to be replaced. Homeowners say they must pay out of pocket costs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, because insurance companies immediately deny coverage. Lawyers say some affected homeowners are being rewarded with settlements from the insurance companies after filing lawsuits for the coverage denials, but the process takes at least two years.

Contractors, building officials and homeowners who know the concrete supplier say the issues are all linked to J.J. Mottes concrete supplied between the early 1980s through 1998.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has called on everyone from the public or private sector who can trace their concrete back to the company to closely monitor their foundations.

Until the Troubleshooters spotted J.J. Mottes pouring cement for the UConn project, no state agencies or institutions publicly acknowledged finding any records of J.J. Mottes producing concrete for any state jobs.

In a statement today, Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick told the Troubleshooters the agency is doing its due diligence on the matter.

In a full statement, Nursick says:

"Our agency, like other state agencies, is doing our due diligence on this matter because we have a deep responsibility to protect the public. We have examined our records, and since 1980, we have identified 98 bridges (both town and state-owned) that have been built in towns that could potentially have been serviced by JJM. To the best of our knowledge, the potential for exposure for Connecticut’s bridges is extremely, extremely small. All bridges – including those owned by towns – undergo extraordinarily meticulous inspection at least once every two years by DOT. None has exhibited any signs of problems associated with pyrrhotite. We have trained professionals – leading experts in the industry – inspecting every portion of these bridges with a fine-tooth comb. DOT has done a re-review of inspections for these 98 bridges, and they show no abnormalities, safety concerns, or any concrete degradation known to be caused by the issues that NBC Connecticut appears to be uncovering.

"As individuals, we are deeply concerned for our fellow residents whose homes may be affected by this chemical reaction. As an agency, however, we have not witnessed any similarities on any of our structures, which are tested and inspected very frequently and exceptionally rigorously. DOT requirements and standards for concrete are some of the highest in the industry. Our testing and frequent inspection system are designed exactly for this purpose – quality control and public safety. We are confident in our processes and the public should be as well. It is most likely that this company was only involved with a handful of the 98 structures we have identified in the geographic area, and no issues have been identified. As always, we will continue to inspect and monitor all of our structures very closely to verifiably assure their safety."

Some contractors say an iron sulfide mineral called pyrrhotite is to blame for the residential foundation failures. Research suggests pyrrhotite oxidizes over time, creating a chemical reaction that causes the concrete to swell. This leads to cracking and eventual failure. Contractors say the issue could take more than a decade to arise.

The U.S. Geological Survey shows, and J.J. Mottes confirms, pyrrhotite is found in the quarry where J.J. Mottes retrieves stone used in its concrete aggregate.

J.J. Mottes declined to comment on our report from yesterday regarding work at UConn. The concrete company has declined multiple requests for comment since our original story.

In a statement for our original report, J.J. Mottes says it has received no reports of issues with concrete poured after 1998.

The company says it uses the same materials for residential, commercial and government work, "the latter two of which are rigorously tested and inspected prior to and during installation. We have and continue to meet all of the standards of our industry and the regulations of the state of Connecticut," said John Patton, a spokesperson for the Stafford Springs-based concrete and septic supplier.

For the second day in a row, the Troubleshooters saw the J.J. Mottes truck pouring cement at the Ratcliffe Hicks building on UConn's main campus in Storrs. Neither the university nor the school could confirm the concrete poured in the last two days or in any existing building is free of pyrrhotite.

Ed. Note: As the Troubleshooters have reported on this issue over the past year and a half, the Joseph J. Mottes Company (JJ Mottes) has evolved its response.  Click on this link to see the company’s most recent full statement to NBC Connecticut and its response to the State of Connecticut.

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