Epoxy Maker Implicated in Big Dig Off Hook for $16M

The Boston Globe reports that manslaughter charges have been dropped against the company that supplied the epoxy with poor creep resistance implicated in Boston’s Big Dig roof panel collapse that killed one person in 2006, in exchange for a $16M payment to the state and an agreement to stop selling the product. Whoa, it’s still on the market?

The money is slated to fund future Big Dig maintenance costs, but I think a chunk of it should have been earmarked to fund further research and some intense education about the use of epoxy in construction projects and its creep characteristics.

Certainly the National Transportation Safety Board had some scathing things to say about the industry's working familiarity with epoxy creep: From a report it published in 2007 on the subject, "There is a general lack of understanding and knowledge in the construction community about creep in adhesive anchoring systems."

More damningly, Bruce Magladry, Director of the NTSB's Office of Highway Safety, said this in an NPR interview, last year "I don't think they understood creep at all."



  1. re John D – it’s not still on the market. The Dec 17 agreement between Powers & Massachusetts AG required immediate cessation of manufacture and sales. Recall of stocks and notification of customers is rolling out now.
    re Karen F – the NTSB report makes it crystal clear that the adhesive product used worked exactly as it should & as per its known properties (no product defect). Virtually all engineering inputs by designers, specifiers, contractors, inspectors and product suppliers were flawed. Defects in applied engineering, if you like. Yes, creep is not a simple behaviour but civil engineers have no excuse for not knowing about it – concrete and timber are creep susceptible.
    re John S – you’re dead right. But because this is an engineered product / system then without satisfactory engineering info the product is unfit for use.
    You want to know something that’s really scarey? The Code which covers rating and use of adhesive anchor systems (AC308) was never applied properly in this case (re verifying installed anchors) and itself still has serious deficiencies (re proof load testing). Project engineers at the Big Dig did the useless testing from the Code and it gave OK results!! Noone has yet admitted that the AC308 proof testing is useless re creep.

  2. You wrote “Whoa, it’s still on the market?” which rather implies that you don’t think that it should be used on any job.

  3. The NTSB report that I reference in the blog post doesn’t make clear whether it was the wrong adhesive or engineers misapplied the adhesive or for that matter whether there was a problem with the adhesive itself. The point I was making is that creep is a difficult concept under the best of circumstances and more education is never a bad thing, particularly when a failed joint could put lives at risk.

  4. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with the adhesive – it had been on the market for quite some time before the accident. The problem here – and it is one that you unknowingly emphasized – is that it was the wrong adhesive for that application. If they had used Post-It adhesive, you wouldn’t yell that Post-It’s should come off the market; you’d yell that they were stupid shouldn’t have used that adhesive.

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