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REASONS FOR CONCRETE CANCER

Concrete is a composite construction material composed primarily of cement, aggregate and


water. There are many formulations that provide various properties. The aggregate is
generally coarse gravel or crushed rock along with a fine aggregate such as sand.
There are several reasons for reinforcing concrete with steel:
1. Concrete has very high compressive strength but very poor flexural strength.
Therefore concrete will immediately crack with the slightest flexural pressure exerted
by normal stresses such as thermal changes or ground movements (such as earth
tremors, foundation settling, or soil volume changes due to seasonal moisture level
fluctuations). Steel provides the essential flexural strength required to support a
building or a structure through such pressures.
2. Concrete and steel are fully compatible with each other. They expand and contract
with changes in temperature at almost exactly the same rates. Using a reinforcing
material of differing thermal expansion and contraction rates would readily result in
stress fractures.
3. Steel can be quickly fabricated to accommodate a wide range of architectural designs.
The initial cause of concrete cancer is usually water penetration. When calcium oxide
reacts with water that penetrates the concrete, it forms a solution of calcium hydroxide.
When concrete is placed on a sidewalk, garage floor or anywhere else it is mixed with
gravel. However gravel is unappealing to the eyes. So the contractors will attempt to
make the surface look white and smooth.
To do so, they add an extra amount of water to the concrete surface and create a cream
of pure concrete on the visible structure which is the clean white finish that you see when
the concrete has dried.
This cosmetic creamed surface is more fragile than the rocky concrete below and it is
the first layer to chip and flake away with time.
Concrete has two layers: an attractive smooth outer surface, and a rough rocky interior.
Concrete spalling occurs when the outer surface chips away, revealing the ugly interior
material.
It is straight forward to assume that, as long as the steel reinforcements are protected from
air and water, they cannot corrode, and therefore concrete cancer can be avoided. The
porous property of concrete is something which can be affected by the quality of the
constituent ingredients in the concrete material such as the aggregate. Another cause is
that the chlorides that is present in the salt water can enter the concrete after it is build and
cause corrosion. This is an issue with the buildings near oceans, such as beach apartment
blocks.
Other factors which causes the cancer include the concrete not being set properly or not
effectively covering the steel environmental factors like movement of earth under the
building causes concrete to crack; thereby exposing it to the elements or water soaking up
from underground. Weathering and erosion of concrete, as well as exposure to chemicals
such as acids or even bacteria can undermine concrete. Temperature and climate are also

factors which can cause concrete to breakdown as water can freeze and thaw on its
surface.
Following sections will discuss in detail, regarding the types and reasons behind concrete
cancer.
1. AGGREGATE EXPANSION
Various types of concrete undergo chemical reactions in concrete, leading to
damaging expansive phenomena. The most common are those containing reactive
silica, that can react (in the presence of water) with the alkalis in concrete (K2O and
Na2O coming principally from cement). Among the more reactive mineral
components of some aggregates are opal, chalcedony, flint and strained quartz.
Following the alkali-silica reactions (ASR), expansive gel forms that create extensive
cracks and damage on structural members. On the surface of concrete pavements, the
ASR can cause pop-outs, i.e. the expulsion of small cones (upto 3cm in diameter) in
correspondence of aggregate particles.
When some aggregates containing dolomites are used, a dedolomitization reaction
occurs when the magnesium carbonate compound reacts with hydroxyl ions and
yields magnesium hydroxide and a carbonate ion. The resulting expansion may cause
the destruction of the material. Far less common are pop-outs caused by the presence
of pyrite, an iron sulphide that generates expansion by forming iron oxide and
ettringite. Other reactions and recrystallization e.g. hydration of clay minerals in some
aggregates may lead to destructive expansion as well.
2. CORROSION OF REINFORCEMENT BARS
Corrosion of the reinforcement steel however, is by far the most common cause of
spalling and splitting in older concrete structures. The expansion of corrosion
products (iron oxide) of carbon steel reinforcement structure may induce mechanical
stress that can cause the formation of cracks and disrupt the concrete structure. If the
rebars have been poorly installed and are located too close to the concrete surface in
contact with the air, concrete spalling can easily occur: flat fragments of concrete are
detached from the concrete bars by the rebars corrosion and may fail down.
One of the main components of this corrosion protection is provided by the amount of
concrete cover protecting the steel. As a thumb rule, one inch of the cover is required
to protect the rebars. In other words, no rebar should be nearer than one inch of the
concrete surface.
3.

CHEMICAL DAMAGE

A. Carbonation
Carbon dioxide in the air can react with the calcium hydroxide in the concrete to
form calcium carbonate. This process is called carbonation which is essentially
the reversal of chemical process of calcination of lime taking place in the

cement kiln. Carbonation of concrete is a slow and continuous process


progressing from the outer surface inward but slows down with increasing
diffusion depth. Carbonation has two effects: It increases mechanical strength of
concrete but it also decreases alkalinity which is essential for corrosion
prevention of the reinforcement steel. Below a pH of 10, the steels thin layer of
surface passivation dissolves and corrosion is promoted. For the latter reason,
carbonation is an unwanted process in concrete chemistry. Carbonation can be
tested by applying Phenolphthalein solution, which is an indicator, over a fresh
fracture surface which indicates non-carbonated and thus alkaline areas with a
violet colour.
Mild steel rapidly oxidises (oxidises) in the presence of moisture, oxygen, and
ions (salts). If, however, it is embedded in fresh concrete, the high alkalinity of
the concrete passivates the surface of the steel providing an excellent barrier to
oxidation. This corrosion protection lasts as long as the concrete maintains its
high alkalinity which (with diligent building maintenance) can be virtually
indefinite. However concrete is also quite porous (even high strength
concrete) and rapidly absorbs moisture(H20), carbon dioxide(CO2), carbon
monoxide(CO), sulphur dioxide(SO2) and many other airborne chemicals. These
chemicals act as acids and neutralises the calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) present
in the Portland cement. (In fact acid rain is rain water in which theses acids
are dissolved).
CO2 + Ca(OH)2 CaCO3 + H2O
This neutralisation process is known as carbonation of the concrete and the
point at which alkaline concrete becomes neutral is called the carbonation
front. The carbonation front begins at the surface of concrete and steadily
moves towards the rebar.
As soon as the carbonation front reaches the rebar, the alkalinity at the rebar
drops, and the rebar loses its only protection against oxidation. When the
embedded rebar corrodes, the corrosion products take up more volume than
original steel. This expansion within the concrete exerts a far greater force than
the concretes flexural strength will allow, resulting in cracks in the concrete
around the affected steel. The cracks expose the steel to further corrosion and
cause more concrete breakdown. By the oxidation-reduction reactions between
iron metal, oxygen and water, a complex molecule of iron of greater molecular
weight and volume than the original iron material is formed which is called the
rust.
4Fe + 3O2 + nH2O 2Fe2O3nH2O

B. Chlorides

Chlorides particularly calcium chloride, have been used to shorten the setting
time of concrete. However calcium chloride and (to a lesser extend) sodium
chloride have been shown to leach calcium hydroxide and cause chemical
changes in Portland cement leading to loss of strength as well as attacking the
steel reinforcement present in most concrete.
A totally different cause of concrete spalling is often found along the Australian
coastline. Coastal air is laden with chloride ion (from seawater salt). As concrete
is porous, it readily allows chloride ions to move easily through the concrete
matrix and from incipient anodes on the surface of the steel rebars, causing
nodules of rust on the steel surface. Even though the concrete may have a high
alkalinity, the surface passivation of the steel is disrupted by the chloride ions.
The rust nodules create internal stresses in the concrete, which results in crack in
the concrete around the affected steel. The cracks expose the rebar to more
chloride ion attack and more corrosion exacerbating the spalling problem.
C. Sulphates
Sulphates in solution in contact with concrete can cause chemical changes to the
cement, which can cause many microstructural effects on leading to the
weakening of cement binder. Sulphates and sulphites are ubiquitous in the
natural environment and are present from many sources, including gypsum
(calcium sulphate) often present as an additive in blended cement which
include fly ask and other sources of sulphate. With the notable exception of
barium sulphate, most sulphates are slightly to highly soluble in water. These
include acid rain where sulphur dioxide in the air shed is dissolved in rainfall to
produce sulphurous acids. In lightning storms, dioxide is oxidised into trioxides
making the residual sulphuric acid in the rainfall even more acidic. Local
government infrastructure is mostly corroded by sulphate arising from the
oxidation of sulphide which occurs when bacteria (for example in sewer mains)
reduce the ever present hydrogen sulphide gas to a film of sulphide (S-) or
disulphide (HS-) ions. This reaction is reversible, both either readily oxidising
on exposure to air or oxygenated storm water, to produce sulphate or sulphite
ions and acidic hydrogen ion in the reaction
HS- + H2O + O2 2H+ + SO4-.
The corrosion often present in the crown (top) of the sewer is directly
attributable to the process known as crown corrosion.
D. Leaching
When water flows through cracks present in concrete, water may dissolve
various minerals present in the hardened cement paste or in the aggregate if the
solution is unsaturated with respect to them. Dissolved ions such as calcium
(Ca2+) are leached out and transported in solutions some distance. If the physicochemical conditions prevailing in the seeping water evolve with distance along
the water path and water becomes supersaturated with respect to certain
minerals, they can further precipitate, making deposits or efflorescence inside

the cracks, or at the concrete outer surface. This process can cause the selfhealing of fractures in previous condition.
E. Decalcification
Distilled water can wash out calcium content in concrete, leaving the concrete in
brittle condition. A common source of distilled water can be condensed steam.
Distilled water washes out the calcium because normal water will already
contain some calcium ions, which will not dissolve them.
F. Seawater
Concrete exposed to sea water is susceptible to its corrosive effects. The effects
are more pronounced above the tidal zone than where the concrete is
permanently submerged. In the submerged zone magnesium and hydrogen
carbonate ions precipitate a layer of brucite, about 30 micrometres thick, on
which a slower deposition of calcium carbonate as aragonite occurs. These
layers somewhat protect the concrete from other processes, which include attack
by magnesium, chloride and sulphate ions and carbonation. Above the water
surface, mechanical damage may occur by erosion by waves themselves or by
sand and gravel the carry, and by crystallisation of salts from water soaking into
the concrete pores and then drying up. Pozzolanic cement and cements using
more than 60% of slag as aggregate are more resistant to seawater than pure
Portland cement. Seawater corrosion contains elements of both chlorides and
sulphate corrosion.
4. BACTERIAL CORROSION
5. PHYSICAL DAMAGE
6. THERMAL DAMAGE