Australia’s peak body for the strata sector is warning that an “epidemic” of concrete cancer that has blighted the Gold Coast could also hit other parts of the country, costing millions in damage to property assets.

Strata Community Australia (SCA) said the problem of concrete spalling has become so severe in Queensland that the state government is mulling the introduction of additional regulation to stymie further damage to building.

One major example of the problem is the Gold Coast’s Focus Apartments, which found itself on the receiving end of a $2.7 million bill for damages incurred as a result of concrete spalling.

SCA is now calling for New South Wales and other state and territory governments to adopt measures to prevent spalling from becoming an issue for other Australian cities as well.

“We have noticed cases in several other states where owners corporations and property owners have been faced with millions in costs, and years in ongoing repairs,” said SCA CEO Kim Henshaw. “It’s really important that this ‘epidemic’ on the Gold Coast serves as an example for Governments everywhere.”

Henshaw notes that cities in Australia are particularly susceptible to spalling because of their predominately coastal locations, with 85 per cent of the population residing within 50 kilometres of the sea.

“Whilst concrete cancer isn’t entirely restricted to coastal regions, the vast majority of cases we observe occur when the concrete reinforcing steel of a building is exposed to the elements, namely salt water,” said Henshaw.

The process of concrete spalling is one which builds up momentum, with initial disintegration followed by even more rapid breakdown of materials.

“When steel rusts, it takes up to three times its original volume,” Henshaw said. “So when this happens, the swelling causes the concrete around it to crack, exposing more reinforcing steel and concrete to the elements.”

She added that the problem of concrete spalling has been exacerbated of late by a decline in the quality of construction work during the present spate of housing development.

The SCA is calling for the NSW government to implement greater regulation of building standards, introduce mandatory building inspections and ensure that owners corporations and property owners are better apprised of how to effectively deal with this problem.

“The safety of Australian construction has been highly questionable of late and in the midst of a national apartment boom, we urge the New South Wales government to regulate industry building and design standards as soon as possible,” said Henshaw.

  • Some of the buildings on the Gold Coast and elsewhere went up very fast in the 1970's, 80's and 90's boom. Most of these buildings include balconies and large expanses of concrete which is exposed to the elements. These concrete framed buildings are now showing signs of rapid deterioration. As salt laden water migrates through the porous concrete, exposed to oxygen spawling and concrete cancer occurs. Repairs may include exposing rusted reinforcing, and using high strength grout to repair patches. Carbon fibre straps can be used to reinforce areas of structural deficiency. That may require owners and tennants to move out, and large repair costs. Today, reinforcing can be given a high degree of protection with cathodic protection, (Electrical charge to the steelwork). Queensland does not have compulsory aquisition legislation to purchase defective buildings and dangerous structures. Some buildings may not be recoverable. Should older tennants be forced to sell up due to these defects? Cathodic protection should now be mandatory, as should a higher attention to steel placement and design, and the quality of concretes and additives used in coastal conditions. Demolition or Repair?

    • We had this problem and discussion in 1974 about building on the Gold Coast.
      As the old saying goes we do not invent new mistakes, we just keep repeating old ones. We really need to have "useby dates" for buildings, and, anyone buying after 25 years should be paying only for the land.
      Nothing is going to happen until a building collapses and a few people die. The Newcastle earthquake, apart from the sad death of people, made compulsory changes to building techniques.

  • Not only is there a problem with rusting of the reinforcing steel but also with ASR. In the early days of construction in QLD there was little or no scientific control over the aggregate that was used to make the concrete. Bridges and buildings on both the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast are showing signs of reaction. The structural disruption of the concrete due to ASR is permitting water ingress to allow oxidation of the steel.

  • The professional concreter is generally a great artist, and, a joy to watch.
    Too often concreting is about finding work for unskilled labourers.
    An Engineer and Architect who do not know their building materials, and, how to detail to suit the enviroment and the building can be a disaster. Are we expecting people to be experts in everything?
    Concrete pours do not need a junior Engineer to supervise, but someone with experience. Too often concrete structures are as temporary as soft timbers exposed to moisture.
    No body really wants to talk about the fact that most concrete used in Australia is not fit for purpose, and, in a meeting of Building Surveyors, an eminent Professor, told the couple of hundred people there they are doing the wrong thing in giving the go ahead to pour concrete when they did not know what was being delivered.