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Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Engineers Reconstruct Water Main Break in Boston

Too often, design firms, contractors, and construction managers cut corners, making poor decisions in the interest of saving time or money or both. In other circumstances, they may be negligent and simply fail to recognize that something is being done incorrectly. A case in point; after a year of investigation, engineers determined that the cause of a water main break in Boston was the installation of wrong-sized, cracked studs, which were incapable of holding together a coupling at a high-pressure juncture.

Thus, avoidable human error cut off clean drinking water to nearly two million people for more than two days, and cost the state approximately $5 million to respond to the emergency and repair the damag

As a result of the findings, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) will likely file suit against any and all responsible parties, which may include the manufacturer of the studs, the supplier of the studs, and any companies and subcontractors involved in the installation of the failed coupling.

The Importance of Expert Testimony

The success of the lawsuit will probably rely in great part on the testimony and report provided by the three engineers who investigated the case, as they were able to piece together a play-by-play of the break based on an analysis of recovered parts of the coupling:

  • First, cracked, wrong-sized studs were installed when the water main was constructed in 2002. The cracks most likely resulted from poor manufacturing.
  • Because the studs were already cracked, and thus weak, they could not withstand pressure and developed more cracks during installation of the coupling or soon after water began flowing through the pipe.
  • In time, one stud probably failed, transferring its load to the remaining studs until each failed in turn.

As is often the case when a mechanism fails, the construction of the pipe was not carried out as originally planned. The pipes were to be more rigidly connected and encased in concrete; however, because the pipes did not align perfectly, the designers had to come up with a joining method that allowed for some movement. They decided to use a clamp system, but also foreboding of the eventual failure, the first clamp that was installed failed water pressure tests.

Construction Defect & Design Failure Expert Witness

Pierre Handl, P.E. evaluates disasters in California and across the United States, determining whether design defects and/or faulty construction contributed to a catastrophe. If you need a civil engineer to assess liability and appear as an expert witness in your case, contact Engineering Expert Witness today for a free initial consultation.

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