Big Dig epoxy supplier had similar problems in Singapore
BOSTON -- The Big Dig epoxy supplier indicted in the fatal tunnel ceiling collapse got complaints in Singapore about the strength and reliability of its glue at the same time bolts fastened with the glue began coming loose in the Boston ceiling, according to a published report.
Engineers from Powers Fasteners never mentioned the problems in Singapore to Big Dig engineers investigating why bolts were slipping out in 1999, according to a local newspaper, which obtained internal company documents.
But Powers officials told the Globe they had no reason to connect the problems because they didn't know the same glue being used in Singapore was being wrongly applied to the Boston ceiling.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced the indictment of Powers Fasteners on one count of involuntary manslaughter. The indictment charges that the company's failure to determine why the bolts were coming loose contributed to the death of Milena Del Valle when several ceiling panels collapsed on the car she was riding in last July.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators found that workers installing the ceiling bolts wrongly used a fast-drying Powers epoxy that tends to lose strength over time.
The memos and reports obtained by the Globe show that as the Big Dig ceiling was being installed using the fast-drying Powers' epoxy in 1999, company officials in Asia were worried the same epoxy was 40 to 50 percent weaker than described in the company catalog.
A quality control official for Powers said in an February 2000 e-mail that the company was losing business in Asia because of problems with the fast-drying epoxy and that "we are very close to be forced ... to quarantine the product."
"I don't have to tell you of the serious consequences both in terms of direct sales and in loss of face and reputation," the e-mail said.
In Boston, Big Dig engineers for Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff dropped the issue about the epoxy's performance, but complaints persisted in Singapore, forcing Powers engineering manager Ray Williamson to go there to investigate.
On Thursday, Powers officials said Williamson had no reason to link the problems in Singapore with those in Boston. They said, at the time, Powers officials mistakenly believed Big Dig workers were using a more durable standard-drying form of their epoxy, not the fast-set type used in Singapore.
"This is a case of apples and oranges," said Martin Levin, Powers' lead attorney. "The only potential link was that there was a complaint about fast-set. ... Fast-set may have been used in the tunnel, but certainly Powers didn't know it" at the time.
State and federal investigators have not determined how the workers for Modern Continental Construction Co. ended up using the fast-drying epoxy on the tunnel ceiling instead of the standard epoxy Modern had ordered.
Levin noted that Powers documents supplied for the Boston job warned state highway engineers that fast-drying epoxy was not approved for overhead use.
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