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Boston tunnel firm charged with manslaughter

The epoxy resin supplier for Boston’s Interstate 90 highway tunnel was yesterday charged with manslaughter over the death of a car passenger last year.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) last month blamed the use of the wrong type of epoxy adhesive for a 3t reinforced concrete panel falling from the roof of Boston’s Interstate 90 highway eastbound tunnel last year.

Excessive adhesive “creep” in the adhesive used to attach the panels to the tunnel roof caused the connection to fail. The panel smashed into a car passing below, crushing its passenger, Milena Del Valle, to death (NCE 20 July 2006).

After a 13 month joint criminal investigation with the NTSB, FBI, Massachusetts State Police and the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General, the Massachusetts Attorney General has indicted epoxy supplier Powers Fasteners with one count of involuntary manslaughter.

It is expected to be the first in a series of prosecutions against firms involved in the construction of the tunnel.

The Attorney General alleges Powers Fasteners failed to make programme manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff or main contractor Modern Continental aware of the differing creep resistances of its two products, Fast-Set and Standard-Set.

Fast-Set epoxy was poor at handling long-term loads and was mistakenly used on the offending panel instead of Standard-Set epoxy as specified in the design of the tunnel and ordered by Modern Continental during the tunnel’s construction in 1999.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office released a statement yesterday saying: “Today's indictment charges that Powers had the necessary knowledge and the opportunity to prevent the fatal ceiling collapse but failed to do so, and that this wanton or reckless conduct resulted in the death of Milena Del Valle.”

Powers Fasteners president Jeffrey Powers said he was stunned at the indictment. “The Attorney General well knows that Powers Fasteners filled a special order for a different epoxy – its Standard Set product – for the tunnel ceiling,” said Powers. “At no time did anyone ever tell Powers, and Powers never had reason to believe – that its Fast Set product was used in the tunnel ceiling.

“The Attorney General also knows that Powers at all times informed officials about the creep characteristics of fast setting epoxies, including its own product. Contemporaneous documents show that even prior to the installation of the ceiling – in July of 1999 - Powers informed the top Mass Highway official in charge of overseeing all product approval on the Big Dig – that the Fast Set epoxy had failed to pass a creep test by a “significant margin”, that it was approved by the ICBO (International Conference of Building Officials) only for short term loading, and that creep was a problem with all fast setting amine epoxies.”

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