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Carboline Named in BP Refinery Suit

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

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BP is suing protective coatings giant Carboline and four other companies, alleging that steel they provided and fireproofed for a multibillion-dollar refinery project is defective and causing property damage.

BP Products North America Inc. filed the federal lawsuit Dec. 3 against Carboline Co., of St. Louis, MO; Trinity Steel Fabricators Inc., of Houston, TX; Schuff Steel Co., of Phoenix, AZ; Tecon Services Inc., of Houston; and Alfred Miller Contracting Co., of Lake Charles, LA. The suit involves a modernization project at BP's Whiting Refinery in Whiting, IN.

Trinity Steel Fabricators and Schuff Steel were both contracted to provide the structural steel coated with Carboline’s fireproofing product, Pyrocrete 241. Alfred Miller Contracting and Tecon Services were subcontracted to provide the fireproofing services for the steel.

Bill Moran, the president and CEO of Trinity Steel, declined comment Wednesday (Jan. 2). Representatives of the other companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


The lawsuit includes allegations that Carboline's Pyrocrete 241 is contributing to premature degradation of steel at BP's Whiting Refinery.

According to the complaint, BP required thousands of tons of new structural steel for the modernization project. Some of this steel was coated with a protective layer of Pyrocrete 241 fireproofing material, which is now degrading prematurely and causing damage to BP’s property, the suit says.

BP claims that it has suffered damages in excess of $75,000, including costs incurred to investigate, conduct analysis, and perform additional testing; costs incurred to repair and coat the defective Pyrocrete; and property damage, loss of use, and increased future maintenance costs.

BP's Allegations

BP alleges that the coating has degraded prematurely because of defects in the application and preparation of the Pyrocrete to the steel—and possibly because of defects in the Pyrocrete itself.

The complaint states that the product is exhibiting problems and defects that include:

  • Surface softness, crumbling, and rounding of original square corners;
  • Discoloration;
  • Low hardness and compressive strength;
  • Delamination and/or flaking of surface material(s);
  • Cracking, pitting, and splitting; and
  • Loss of material cover (reduced thickness, voids, cracks, and other discontinuities).

“BP is remediating the damage caused by the defective Pyrocrete and defective preparation and application of the Pyrocrete, and BP will have to continue to remediate the defective conditions and property damage at great cost to BP,” the company said in its complaint.

An investigation conducted by BP claims that the subcontractors failed to properly mix, prepare, and apply the Pyrocrete; applied the product with gaps in the underlying lathe in violation of the contract’s plans and specifications; and “overworked” and/or “skim-coated” the Pyrocrete during application.

BP’s investigation also claims that the contractors failed to supply properly prepared structural steel and that the manufacturer’s product is defective.

BP provided “timely notice” of the problems to the defendants, all of which have refused to accept responsibility, the complaint states.

Causes for Action

BP alleges a total of nine counts against the companies. Trinity Steel, Schuff Steel, Alfred Miller, and Carboline each face two counts, and Tecon faces one.


BP claims to have suffered $75,000 in damages related to investigating and replacing the allegedly defective materials.

Trinity Steel and Schuff Steel are accused of breach of contract and breach of express warranty.

Breach-of-contract counts for both companies state that they were, and are, responsible to BP for the work of subcontractors in preparing and applying the Pyrocrete to the structural steel they each supplied. BP alleges that both companies breached the contract when subcontractors failed to prepare and apply the Pyrocrete to the structural steel in accordance with the purchase orders and/or industry standards.

According to the complaint, Trinity Steel and Schuff Steel both breached their warranties when they provided BP with structural steel that, on information and belief, had Pyrocrete that was not prepared and/or applied correctly.

A breach-of-express-warranty count against Alfred Miller states that a contract between Trinity Steel and Alfred Miller included an express warranty that runs from Alfred Miller to BP. The lawsuit alleges that Alfred Miller breached the warranty when it supplied BP with Pyrocrete that was not prepared or applied according to the requirements and when Alfred Miller supplied BP with Pyrocrete precast flange caps that were not manufactured to the requirements of the purchase orders.

Alfred Miller, Tecon, and Carboline each face separate counts of common-law negligence, according to the complaint. BP alleges that Alfred Miller and Tecon both had a duty to BP to prepare and apply Pyrocrete to the structural steel in a “good and workmanlike manner,” and Carboline had a duty to BP to manufacture a product that was not defective.

BP claims that the three companies all had “superior knowledge” about the product, that it was foreseeable to the companies that premature degradation of the Pyrocrete would cause property damage and require replacement, and that the companies “faced a minimal burden to guard against such defects.”

Carboline is also facing a count for breach of implied warranty of merchantability. BP alleges that Carboline breached its implied warranty by selling Pyrocrete that was not merchantable and not fit for the ordinary purposes in which it was used. 

Pyrocrete 241

According to the suit, BP picked Pyrocrete based on recommendations from Carboline and the product’s marketing material.

Carboline Pyrocrete

St. Louis-based Carboline Co. calls its Pyrocrete 241 “the preferred cementitious fireproofing material in the marketplace for over 30 years.”

In its product data sheets, Carboline describes Pyrocrete 241 as a single powder component that is recommended for fire protection of structural steel, bulkheads, and upgrading the fire resistance of existing concrete.

Product information from Carboline calls Pyrocrete “the preferred cementitious fireproofing material in the marketplace for over 30 years.”

Carboline said the product does not require an additional coating system, resists cracking and impact damage, prevents disbondment, and requires less material for projects.

Whiting Refinery Modernization Project

BP has invested several billion dollars to modernize its Whiting Refinery to increase its heavy oil processing capability by reconfiguring the largest of three crude distillation units and adding new coking capacity and associated processing units.

The modernization project is the largest, most complex refining project undertaken in BP’s recent history, according to the company. The project includes installing 380 miles of pipe; 1,200 pieces of major equipment; 600 shop-fabricated modules; and 50,000 tons of steel.

Construction began in May 2008; as of August 2012, BP reported that the project was about 70 percent complete.


Tagged categories: BP; Carboline; Coating Application; Fire-resistive coatings; Heat-resistive coatings; High-performance coatings; Lawsuits; Protective Coatings; Structural steel

Comment from william reid, (1/2/2013, 2:20 PM)

Some comments as follows; Was the following; Clients representative in attendance PFP Manufacturer TSR in attendance Applicators quality control in attendance, Did applicator have technical experience with this type of PFP, did personnel have previous experience of applying this PFP materials Did all parties attend Pre-Qualification meetings Was Pre-Qualification application trials carried out prior to starting actual production works, and was all parties technical representatives present Regards Bill Reid NACE / SSPC PCS

Comment from Atanas Cholako, (1/3/2013, 1:42 PM)

In addition to William above, lack of inspection is present. Bad work could have been stop at initial stage. Applicator inspector as well as others need to speak...if they've been there (hired) at all. Carboline can't afford to supply defective coating...Rds,Atanas Cholakov NACE3

Comment from Mohamed Akl, (1/3/2013, 10:44 PM)

The correct way of doing things always wins..regardless what the difficulties always are...sure there was deficiency somewhere in the whole application process...Mohamed Akl....SSPC PCS / NACE III

Comment from william reid, (1/4/2013, 5:11 AM)

The deficiency in the process should have been very visable early in the production works.I have been on past projects which this Pyrocrete 241 has been applied very successfully and still providing protection many years down the line with experienced inspectors checking all stages. Rds W Reid NACE/SSPC PCS. NACE Level III etc

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/4/2013, 8:52 AM)

Cement based coatings are very application sensitive - the amount of water in the coating during cure is absolutely critical. How each batch is mixed, whether the substrate wicks the water away, how dry the air is, how much wind is blowing - these all affect the water in the coating during cure. For example, if you apply a cement based coating over concrete, the concrete (usually) should be "saturated surface dry" condition - the pores of the concrete full of water, but no liquid on the surface. This prevents the water in the cement coating from being wicked into the substrate.

Comment from Robert Pool, (1/4/2013, 1:08 PM)

I have to speak up! All three applicators have 20+ years experience with this material. Mock-ups were done and approved by BP, Fluor, Foster Wheeler & Carboline. BP had inspectors onsite almost full-time (i.e. 3 days a week) and Carboline's TSR was there weekly. Water was measured to the ounce, wet densities were checked every couple hours, and retained samples were taken and checked for dry density and hardness. It was all done "by the book" and met Carboline's application specs for water qty and wet density, yet the material that is failing was done by three seperate contractors at three different locations... A leading material science lab was hired to do a root cause investigation and they did not find any fault with the application or inspection. On the contrary, the lab recreated the phenomenon using Pyrocrete 241 mixed under perfect application conditions. What does that tell you?

Comment from peter gibson, (1/7/2013, 12:08 PM)

Hey Robert You tell us .Solve the mystery.We are dying to know. Fill in the blanks for us. Interesting case.

Comment from Stephen Bothello, (1/10/2013, 6:09 PM)

Guys, a suggestion-for critical applications of this nature, I would recommend to include in the ITP, testing for Hardness, Impact and Adhesion (pull-off)& other physical tests, at random areas on the actual structure of applied coating, for best control & quality assurance. The number of such random reference areas should be decided pre-job, in proportion to the total area. Pre-qualification, mock-up is a representation & many times conducted in close to ideal conditions/ conditions that are closely monitored. The coating applied on the actual structure is the more important, needs to be compliant, and very much so when its PFP. Test Panels are also Ok, can be preserved as evidence, as long as they are applied at same time, similar conditions with the same mix. as the actual structure. However, testing for above said physical properties on actual structure should be imperative and mandatory.

Comment from shane hirvi, (1/12/2013, 12:53 PM)

Sounds like bad news all around. Shane H Hirvi certified waffle technologist and level I syrup technician.

Comment from sean quinlan, (1/14/2013, 9:38 AM)

Interesting case this. Just wonder did anybody have other failures with Carboline intumescent coatings like AD Firefilm 111?

Comment from Chuck Pease, (1/14/2013, 5:33 PM)

How many cases have anyone seen whereby the coating itself was determined to be deficient. As an applicator I can say that 9 x out of 10 it is inadequete surface preparation and application parameters that are at fault.Very rarely is the material from a reputable mfgr such as Carboline to blame.

Comment from Gregory Berg, (1/15/2013, 7:44 AM)

Excellent Comment Shane.

Comment from Donald L Crusan, (1/16/2013, 8:33 AM)

Being as this is one of the more interesting posts of late and that I have shared it with a lot of my NACE certified peers on the Gulf Coast, I would love to see provenance on comments and have the ability to rate answers. Intuition caused me to turn down this assignment 3 or 4 times. Respectfully, Don Crusan

Comment from shane hirvi, (1/18/2013, 1:29 PM)

Don, I agree with being able to rate comments and would love to see some evidence to support the comments made here. I also agree that this is perhaps the most interesting story in the last year. Unfortunately, I don't imagine that any real details will be posted here in any specificity--this is a big case and only an idiot would come on here and post anything of relevance to this case. These things aren't won in the paintsquare arena. I would love to see the technical reports generated by the laboratories when this thing is all said and done but those things very rarely get posted. These things are usually sealed swept under a rug as a part of a settlement agreement--nobody likes admitting they've done wrong. Maybe because no state or federal agency is directly involved there will be more transparency--but I have my doubts. To address your comment regarding intuition on bad jobs--I see bad jobs as an opportunity for success rather than failure. It is hard to grow in this business if everything goes off without a hitch. I have had the opportunity to have been involved in some very bad projects with people and processes that caused millions of dollars in claims and though I regret that these projects went badly I am thankful for the opportunity to help right the ship. I guess I've babbled on long enough.

Comment from Donald L Crusan, (1/21/2013, 8:24 AM)

Thanks for the commnents Shane. Being in the twilight of my career, I pass more jobs up. I did enjoy trying "to put out the fires" during the last 35 years though.

Comment from David Reynolds, (1/22/2013, 10:18 AM)

In response to Seans question, there have been other projects in the Gulf Coast on which the Pyrocrete 241 had the same issues.

Comment from Tony Kroos, (7/24/2014, 1:42 PM)

This Lawsuit is Over so what is the Veredict on this?

Comment from Jesse Wilson, (7/25/2014, 6:56 PM)

Pyrocrete 241 has two optional top coatings that will prevent the water adsorbtion, softening and CUF issues noted by BP. It increases the cost of the project incrementally. They are listed on the Carboline Brochures. Saturation application of the two top coatings is key. For some reason, these top coats are rarely applied unless a smart client demands it.

Comment from Mary Chollet, (7/28/2014, 12:54 PM)

According to court documents, the BP Products suit against all of the defendants was dismissed on July 14. The dismissal includes all cross-actions by the defendants. Each side will bear its own costs. Carboline's attorney said in an email Monday (July 28), "The terms of the settlement are confidential and cannot be disclosed."

Comment from Chad Laubenthal, (9/13/2019, 10:37 AM)

Every time I have seen lightweight cementitious fireproofing used in a freeze/thaw environment, like this article, it is bad news. I think they should stop selling this material in the Midwest. The Midwest can see as many freeze/thaw cycles in a month as southern coastal regions could see in 10 years. The material does not handle weather very well, especially if it is installed with excess water mixed in. Skim coating the structure makes the structure look outstanding when the job is done, but then flakes off in chips over the next 2-3 winters. The skim coat chipping off eventually leads to water ingress, and full failure of the entire cementitious fireproofing coating system. After a soaking, 1-2 day rain in November, followed by a quick freeze, I have seen it literally rain fireproofing material inside the unit. We have tried sealing, coating, etc. of this material and the results are still unfavorable. After 7-10 years in a region that routinely freezes, this material is not going to be looking very good. I have talked to other people in the Midwest familiar with this material and they concur. When does lightweight cementitious fireproofing work in freeze/thaw environments? If this material is under a structure or awning, protected from rain, and not routinely exposed to the elements, it may last a lot longer than other installations right by it that are exposed to the elements. I have also seen contractors try to get creative on ways to apply the material in less time, particularly trying to eliminate a curing day. I have seen the results of contractors forming and pouring the lightweight cementitious fireproofing like they do dense concrete. This can save a lot of time. The excess water in the lightweight cementitious fireproofing causes failure after 1-2 winters. The failures are to the point you can grab the material off the structure with your bare hands in chunks. All the material would have looked perfect from the outside when the job was done, this is why the problem is hard to argue. Like the comment from R. Pool above, we have done jobs “by the book”, met all the specs, checked everything, and still had problems in later years. Intumescent fireproofing has routinely held up in freeze/thaw conditions for the applications I have seen. I have seen a few failures, but these are likely due to legitimate application errors, and usually when done in a shop by a fabricator not familiar with applying thick coatings. The first job we ever did with intumescent was a total failure. The steel was being coated by the fabricator in their fab shop. The fabricator called and reported the material was not curing and bubbling. We sent the coating sales representative to the shop to investigate. The coating sales rep called back after 5 minutes on the job and notified us he had found the problem. We asked him if he was sure, and stated we were not paying for additional charges if it was a fabricator problem. The sales rep stated he had 100% confidence he had found the problem. For the intumescent coating, the A material was black, and the B material was white. When the sales rep walked down the job to check the uncured coating, he saw that half the fabricated steel was white, and the other half of the job was black. The fabricator did not mix A & B together. Problem solved. It’s a long story but I wanted to note that anything can have a problem if done by untrained people. Lightweight cementitious fireproofing is usually going to be cheaper to install than intumescent fireproofing. This is why it is hard to convince project managers to not use it. Hopefully in future years we can keep up the communication on problems seen with this material, and limit it’s use in freeze/thaw areas.

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