Chapter 5. Concrete Deterioration from the Oxidation of Pyrrhotite – A State-of-the-Art Review
Construction Materials Consultants, Inc. and Applied Petrographic Services, Inc., Greensburg, PA, USA
After pyrite, pyrrhotite is a common accessory mineral found in many igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks used as aggregates in concrete. In moist exposures, oxidation of pyrrhotite has caused distress ranging from minor cracking to extensive cracking, crumbling, and disintegration of concrete structures. In almost all cases, distress is found to be due to two-stage expansions associated with oxidation of pyrrhotite forming goethite, limonite, ferrihydrite, and other oxidation products in aggregates, followed by internal sulfate attacks in paste by reactions between the sulfates released from pyrrhotite oxidation with the aluminous phases in paste. Originally discovered in a concrete tunnel in Oslo, Norway, subsequently many other parts of the world showed similar distress, e.g., in numerous foundations in the Trois-Rivières area in Québec, Canada, in concrete dams in Central and Catalan Pyrenees in Spain, in a dam in Switzerland, in many houses in Penge, South Africa, ‘mundic’ problems of pyrite and pyrrhotite oxidation in many buildings in Cornwell and Devon, England, and in numerous residential concrete foundations across eastern Connecticut and Massachusetts in the USA. This chapter provides an overview of worldwide occurrences of pyrrhotite oxidation-related distress with special emphasis on the cases examined by the author, perhaps at the epicenter of such distress in the eastern US where an estimated 35,000 residential concrete foundations in Connecticut and 10,000 more in Massachusetts are in danger of potential collapse from slow and progressive cracking due to pyrrhotite oxidation in the crushed gneiss coarse aggregates. Time of occurrence varied from less than a year in Norway to 5 years in Canada to 20 years in the US. A detailed review is provided on various field and laboratory testing procedures, e.g., petrography, SEM-EDS, XRD, XRF, µXRF, chemical analyses for sulfur content, thermomagnetic susceptibility, oxygen consumption rate, mortar bar expansion, etc., for detection of pyrrhotite and measuring oxidation-related distress. Also discussed are mechanisms of distress, problems in detection of pyrrhotite in aggregates, factors influencing pyrrhotite oxidation, and various microstructural evidence of distress. Finally, some multi-step laboratory testing protocols are discussed for effective screening of aggregates to prevent such occurrences in future construction.
Keywords: pyrrhotite, oxidation, ettringite, petrography, sulfate, iron sulfide, aggregate
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