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Manufacturer Defends Coatings in Fire

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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A protective-coatings maker is taking strong exception to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report that cites his products as contributors to a devastating 2013 fire at a high-security research lab.

The blaze Aug.14 caused an estimated $10 million in damage to the future Biosafety Level IV (BSL-4) lab for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, the Corps of Engineers reported.

Two contractors working on the construction project were treated for smoke inhalation, reports said.

USAMRIID fire
Courtesy photos unless noted

The labs' airtight design may have contributed to the fire's rapid spread. The lab will host research on "dangerous and exotic agents" and fatal viruses.

No official cause of the fast-moving fire at the $653 million, 835,000-square-foot building was released, but unpermitted welding in the area is believed to be a chief cause.

USACE Investigation

The Frederick News-Post obtained an Oct. 15 fire investigation report by the Army Corps, which was overseeing construction. According to the newspaper, the USACE report found that:

  • Workers did not have appropriate permits for work with an open flame at the site;

  • The containment labs’ safety features and design may have contributed to the fire's rapid spread; and

  • An epoxy coating on the labs’ walls, ceiling and floors fueled the fire.

The report, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, also noted that the building's fire-alarm system had not yet been activated, although about 300 people were inside at the time and safely evacuated, the paper said.

'Highly Combustible'

The Army Corps report said the welder had "a fire blanket and fire extinguisher" when he noticed fire coming from an epoxy-coated room he had left minutes earlier. The report said workers at the site had not had the appropriate permit for the welding operations.

USAMRIID fire

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called the cured epoxy wall coating "highly combustible." Manufacturer Dudick Inc. disagreed, saying that wood, drywall and other construction materials at the site posed a greater fire risk.

A slick biocontainment epoxy coating on the walls, ceiling and floor of the research labs may have fueled the fire, the newspaper said, citing the report. The coating had been sprayed on to create a smooth surface on top of concrete, to minimize the spread of chemicals or organic material, according to the report.

Previous welding "multiple times" in the building had caused the coating to bubble and char, the report said.

In this case, however, the two finishing coats sprayed on the walls "were likely the primary fuel source and the first substance to ignite," the newspaper said.

USACE reported: “There is no indication that anyone ever knew or communicated that the biocontainment coating system ... was highly combustible in its cured state."

Coating System Defended

The coating system was identified as the Dudick Steri-Seal HB Coating System—chosen, the newspaper said, after the project team's unidentified "first choice, installed in another government facility, began to show tiny cracks under repeated unltraviolet radiation expsoure."

Ohio-based Dudick Inc. describes the product as a 100 percent solids, high-build (10-30 mil DFT), chemically resistant epoxy designed for high-end laboratories.

In a detailed statement to PaintSquare News, Tom Dudick, president of Ohio-based Dudick Inc., disputed USACE's description of his company's coating system.

Dudick lab coatings
Dudick Inc.

Founded in 1970, Ohio-based multinational Dudick Inc. provides a wide range of specialty coatings, including BSL-4 laboratory protective and containment coatings.

"Preliminary results [from flammability testing conducted by the USACE] show that the Dudick coatings flame spread index was in line with other epoxy coatings," Dudick wrote. "In fact other nationally-known epoxy coatings ignited at lower temperatures.

"I would not agree that flammability is not a known issue or that it is 'highly combustible in its cured state'."

The coating system had been installed a year earlier, although the manufacturer was not involved firsthand in the application, Tom Dudick said.

Fire Risk

In its cured state, the Dudick coating system poses "less of a flammability risk than common building products such as wood, drywall, cardboard and other products, all of which were used on the job site," said Dudick.

"The physical examination of the site revealed the presence of combustibles including paper, plastic foam board, cardboard, wood and other materials in the area of the fire all of which contributed to the spread of the fire."

Dudick said his coatings had never been implicated in a fire and cited an Army Corps statement that “only small chips of cured coating could be ignited from the scene . . . it was difficult to do in a controlled environment, and it is likely that this fire could have started only under a very specific set of actual circumstances that existed” on the date of the fire.

"In our 44 years of business, we have never had an incident similar to this, and we fully stand behind our product,” Dudick said.

USAMRIID fire

The fire caused about $10 million in damage and set back completion of the $653 million project by about five months, authorities said.

Dudick also said the Army had decided to recoat the damaged areas with the same Dudick products.

High-Security Lab

The structure, about 95 percent complete at the time, is to house the world's largest BSL-4 lab. Built to handle "dangerous and exotic agents" and fatal viruses, the lab block was designed to be sealed and airtight.

Site security was extremely tight, and construction was "generally limited to the best qualified tradesmen," USACE reported.

Workers had to swipe an access card to enter the area; the welder closest to the fire was authorized to be there, the report said. The welder worked for SSM Inc., which did not respond to the newspaper's requests for comment.

The completion date of the project, originally set for December 2014, has been pushed back to May 2015.

   

Tagged categories: Construction; Design; Drywall; Epoxy; Fire; Fire-resistive coatings; Health and safety; Specialty Coatings; Wood

Comment from James Albertoni, (3/26/2014, 10:27 AM)

Good job USACE. (Sarcasm) Blame Tom and his products even when testing showed otherwise and then re-use the same product. Make up your mind. Sorry Tom had to be dragged through the mud on this.


Comment from Tony Rangus, (3/26/2014, 12:33 PM)

What flame spread tests were performed onn the product form. The reference to ASTM D635 seems a bit odd. Are there not other national standards (e.g. NFPA, ASTM E84) for evaluating flame spread and/or smoke generation and/or heat flux etc. for coatings on specific substrates?


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