Chapter 7. The Role of the Geologist in Sulfide Problems: The Irish Experience


Peter Strogen
Consultant Geologist, Coromandel, New Zealand

Part of the book: Pyrite and Pyrrhotite: Managing the Risks in Construction Materials and New Applications


This chapter gives a brief survey of where pyrite, and equally deleterious sulphides marcasite and pyrrhotite, might be found in rocks used as aggregate and as foundations, emphasizing that geological advice should be sought in advance of any project utilising or excavating rocks. As a result of over 50 years work in NE America, both Canada and the USA and work by mining companies extracting pyritic ores, we now have a fair idea of (a) how oxidation of pyrite and other sulfides occurs. It is brought about by water and oxygen, of which there is sufficient of both present in most environments to accomplish this completely; the grain size of the sulfide, and its trace element chemistry are controls on the rate of oxidation, and (b) textural controls – mainly the distribution of sulfide and carbonate through the rock – determine whether oxidation leads to or does not lead to expansion and heave. Sulfate attack on concrete and reinforcing steel will occur regardless. The second part of this chapter concentrates on the Irish situation, examining Dublin geology and the good aggregates it can provide, and others used that are clearly unsatisfactory. The legislation that has evolved with our geological/engineering knowledge is discussed in the light of continuing social problems caused by the “pyrite affair”. Finally, it is suggested that expansion tests (under internationally agreed conditions) should be used to test aggregates, and to “clear” long established sources that are suitable for use despite significant pyrite contents. It should never be forgotten that the real victims here are the purchasers of the homes and apartments – many of whom cannot sell or re-mortgage their homes since the backfills under their floors have been condemned.

Keywords: sulfides, pyrite oxidation, heave, Dublin, aggregate


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