The Civic Scene: City must test its buildings for their structural integrity

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A scandal was disclosed that Testwell Laboratories was accused of faking the results of thousands of tests of concrete and steel used in constructing buildings in the city, according to Crain’s New York Business. The tests are necessary to make sure the quality of the steel and mix of concrete were proper to hold up the structures being built, the paper reported.

As the owner of the testing company now goes to trial, it is being disclosed that only 18 of 91 buildings involved in the scandal under the jurisdiction of the city Department of Buildings have been re-tested by the DOB and are considered safe, Crain’s reported.

Why have not all the structures involved in the scandal been tested by now? A DOB official said “there was a lack of procedures for analyzing concrete strength in completed buildings.” After more than a year?

Concrete is made of cement and sand. There are different grades of cement and sand. The better grades are more expensive. It is easy to add more cheap sand to a mix. More sand means the finished concrete is not as strong as it is supposed to be. You probably have seen sidewalks where the concrete is flaking due to more sand added to the mix. Imagine what could happen to the inside of a gigantic structure if the concrete mix is poor.

Think back to what happened in China a year ago. There was an earthquake and many buildings collapsed, including a number of schools. Thousands of children died in these collapsed schools, but schools built for children of Communist Party officials did not collapse. In China there has been no official trial or publicity — in fact, people who asked for an investigation have been put in jail.

We depend on the strength of the structures built here. The trial going on now is focusing on five of 115 sites: the Freedom Tower, Yankee Stadium, JetBlue Terminal No. 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the yet-to-be-built Second Avenue Subway and the Grand Central bus terminal in Brooklyn.

Sometimes a company will alter a mixture to make it cheaper just to get money to pay off. Some people want to make money and do not care about the consequences of improperly mixed concrete or properly made steel imported from a third-world country.

The 10th floor of a building could stand for years until a 5,000-pound machine is placed on the floor. A walkway could easily hold 200 people, but if another 50 people stand on it there might be a collapse. A building might look good for 10 years until a heavy wind or several feet of snow or an earthquake cause it to collapse.

If this company is being charged with 3,000 faked reports in 10 years, then what did it do 15 or 20 years ago?

Some of the sites which have not been tested yet are at Brooklyn Borough Hall, New York University, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Columbia University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Cornell Medical College. Will the city look into structures built 20 years ago?

We still have not had the trial concerning those cranes that collapsed a couple years ago, resulting in several deaths. I am waiting for that trial. I will keep following this trial of the fake tests for concrete and steel and see how it turns out.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The United States has the largest economy in the world, but the Chinese are now buying more goods than we are. Of course, goods are cheaper in China than here in the United States, so the total value of our purchases are higher.

Chinese automakers will sell 12.8 million cars and light trucks as compared to 10.3 million in the United States. Most of the vehicles sold in China are made there partly because they put a tax on imported vehicles. Foreign countries manufacture their cars here to save on import tax. China will be buying 7.2 million desktop computers as opposed to 6.6 million in the United States. Retail sales are growing twice as fast as in the United States.

Due to the economic slowdown we are buying fewer goods and saving more money, which may be good since we will be able to use the savings and not have to borrow so much to finance industrial growth. The average annual income in China in urban areas is $2,775 while in rural areas it is $840. We are still doing well, but our legislators must be more realistic and wiser if we are to continue to do well economically.

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