Agency: Corroded Joint Caused Tenn. Plant Collapse

October 31, 2011

Tennessee’s workplace safety agency has issued a report faulting construction at the Gatlinburg Wastewater Treatment plant where a wall collapsed, killing two workers.

Thursday’s report from the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the walls of a basin at the plant were cast in such a way that leakage of acidic waste across a joint corroded metal couplers over a long time, The Mountain Press reported.

Plant operators John Eslinger and Donald Storey died April 5 when a concrete wall fell onto the control building where they were working. The collapse sent about 850,000 gallons of untreated sewage into the Little Pigeon River.

The agency concluded construction of the wall which collapsed during a period of heavy rain was done in such a way that it produced what is called a “cold joint.” The construction allowed acidic effluent to corrode reinforcing bar splice couplers. The report said the couplers probably did not all fail in the collapse, but gave way over a number of years. Construction of the equalization basin, where the failure occurred, was completed in 1996.

Inspectors also found the contractor has used splicing couplers instead of dowels, which were specified in the design of the basin. TOSHA, however, concluded the switch was not, in itself, a cause of the collapse, but the change did accelerate deterioration.

The agency said the basin was designed so that intersecting walls within it would help support the outside wall, which failed.

A call left Friday for Albert Harb, the city attorney for Gatlinburg, was not immediately returned.

The agency concluded that no standards were violated in design or construction of the plant and no citations will be issued, according to the summary report.

The plant is operated by Veolia Water North America Operating Services LLC. The construction contractor was Crowder Construction Company, which the TOSHA report noted is no longer in business.


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