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Rising above politics

CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY Board deputy chairman Tony Merricks took the unprecedented step this week of using his standing down speech to take a swipe at the leaders of construction trade associations. Anybody in the audience might have got the impression that the associations were dinosaurs concerned simply with beating their own drums in the murky politics of the industry.

This, of course, is a heavily polarised point of view. But to a certain extent Merricks has a point - trade associations, by definition, must represent the interests of their members.

It is perhaps strange, therefore, that a so-called 'expert' group set up to find solutions to the thaumasite sulphate attack problem should be made up chiefly from trade association representatives - each with their own agenda but with little actual scientific knowledge of the phenomenon. Cynics would say that this is a good way to keep a lid on the problem - by using a panel of generalists it is always much easier to arrive at a fudge.

With 'independent' scientists being muzzled and agitators lurking in the wings, the thaumasite issue is certainly already becoming political. But the discovery of 10 more cases this week also indicates that thaumasite is an issue which is not going to disappear in a hurry.

So if the fears are proved right that, as well as bridge piers, thousands of house foundations may be affected, thaumasite could soon become more of a threat than any concrete cancer of the past. Finding sufficient knowledge and sufficient cash to solve the problem must surely be the priority - quickly, openly and without politics.

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