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Contractor hits out over bad toxic grout advice

SWEDISH CONTRACTOR Skanska has accused French chemical manufacturer Rhne-Poulenc of being economical with the truth about the environmental dangers of using its Rhoca-Gil grout on the ill-fated Hallandss tunnel in southern Sweden.

Speaking at the March meeting of British Tunnelling Society, in London, Skanska project manager Jan Stattin said that information provided by Rhne-Poulenc 'left a lot to be desired'. 'Some information was wrong, some misleading and important information was not given,' he said.

Stattin said that because Skanska had not used the grout before, it sought advice from Rhne-Poulenc. 'We thought that using the expertise of a large chemical company to educate our site staff would help protect employees and the environment.'

The comments concerned the major environmental alert last autumn when some of the grout, which contains the toxic carcinogen acrylamide, failed to cure and entered the local water supply, poisoning cattle. Tunnel workers complained of irritation in their eyes and throat soon after work began and some still have not fully regained feeling in hands and feet. Tunnelling on this key part of the new high-speed SEK930M (£77M) Malm-Gothenburg line on the west coast of southern Sweden is at a standstill almost six months after the incident (GE November 1997).

Stattin disputed claims by the Rhne-Poulenc that this was the first time such an incident had occurred and that the grout was safe. 'There have been problems before, but they have never been reported,' said Stattin, adding that it was impossible to use the grout safely, 'because you don't get 100% polymerisation'.

Stattin also accused the manufacturer of being environmentally irresponsible. 'Rhone-Poulenc is a large multi-national company working in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry and as such they must be used to making sure products are harmless to the environment. But still they are making and selling these products throughout the world,' he said.

And Stattin warned engineers using new grouting products to 'be extra suspicious, use efficient control programs and impose environmental management systems'.

Permanent lining is now considered to be the only way to reduce leakage to the rigorous levels demanded by the Swedish Water Court. Preparatory work is currently under way to put this plan into place as soon as work restarts. But this will not be for some time, as the report of the investigation into the incident is not expected for another 'few months'.

Meanwhile, Skanska is concentrating all its efforts into containing the problem and Stattin said that there were now 'very, very low levels of acrylamide in the water supply, much lower than the acceptable limits set in Sweden'.

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