Late last year, unbeknownst to many Connecticut officials, the Navy began seeking out small businesses to invent a device that can quickly detect pyrrhotite in concrete. The mineral is known to naturally react over years with water and oxygen, causing devastating damage to concrete basements and foundations.

“It would be a very positive development,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, acknowledging the technology could be years away. The Democrat’s district includes many of the 36 Connecticut communities identified as potentially having the crumbling basement problem.

A Vernon resident, Courtney said some of his affected neighbors have tested for pyrrhotite, an expensive process involving multiple borings into concrete walls. The ultimate fix involves replacing an entire foundation or basement could have a price tag up to $200,000.

Courtney said the Navy’s efforts have been totally independent of any requests made by the state’s congressional delegation or Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who have been working to persuade the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide financial assistance to the homeowners for what they contend is a slow-moving natural disaster.

“As a large consumer of concrete, with a big footprint of military installations in the U.S., they actually decided they wanted to find a way to make sure their structures are sound,” said Courtney. Currently, no Navy structures have been identified as having problems associated with pyrrhotite.

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington recently chose three companies to begin developing a portable device or test kit that can analyze pyrrhotite in damaged concrete structures, as well as loose aggregate before it is mixed into fresh concrete.

The firms have received federal funding to test their hypotheses that their proposed technologies can detect pyrrhotite in a controlled environment, a process that should take six months, said Theresa Hoffard, research chemist at the Command.


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