Lawsuit: Plant falsified data
Pre-cast concrete panels from Stowe firm part of $5.8B construction
STOWE » Pre-cast concrete panels made by a Stowe company for a $5.8 billion construction project to extend a Washington, D.C., metro rail system to Dulles International Airport are flawed, according to inspections and a whistleblower lawsuit.
About 1,500 panels manufactured by Universal Concrete Products, located at 400 Old Reading Pike, are part of six stations in the project.
The rail project is a 23-mile extension of the Metrorail system’s orange line that will extend in two phases to Dulles airport.
Phase one opened in 2014 and phase two is under construction now.
But more than a year ago, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing the project, and Capital Rail Constructors, the lead contractor, identified problems with Universal’s manufacturing process, according to a May 22 article in The Washington Post.
Initially, officials thought the problems affected about 20
percent of the more than 1,500 panels. “In addition, 60 panels were found to be faulty because not enough concrete was covering the internal wire mesh,” the Post reported.
But a 2016 whistleblower lawsuit alleges that “all — not just a portion — of the panels could be flawed because the raw materials used to make them did not meet project standards,” according to the newspaper.
A message left with Universal founder and president Donald Faust was not returned.
The lawsuit was filed under seal on March 29, 2016, by Nathan Davidheiser, who worked for Universal as a lab technician in the quality control division from July 2015 to February of 2016, according to the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that Universal
used unapproved materials that do not meet the job specifications for the contract; and that quality assurance tests are not being performed; and that data on those tests is being falsified and provided to the government “to support
their claims for payment.”
According to the suit, the deficiencies revolve around not enough air being part of the concrete mix to allow for expansion and contraction when temperatures change, thus making the concrete more likely to crack, allowing water penetration which can cause structural problems.
As a result, the general contractor will put sealant on the faulty panels exposed to the weather to keep water and salt out, and to pay for the process to be repeated every 10 years, the Post reported.
The suit alleges Davidheiser was instructed by Universal management to allow deficient batches to be poured into molds and shipped to the job site, and to “record false test data that would mask the deficiencies.”
Further, the suit alleges that although Universal indicated in the contract that it would be using stone aggregate in the concrete from a Eastern Stone in Oley, which met the chemical composition required to reduce degradation, Davidheiser discovered the company was using stone from a quarry in Denver, Lancaster County, that did not meet the chemical requirements and that the Oley quarry had closed two years earlier.
WTOP, a Washingtonarea radio station, reported May 16 that both the federal government and state of Virginia, both of which have contributed public funds to the project, intend to join the 2016 lawsuit Davidheiser initiated.
Under the whistleblower law, Davidheiser is entitled to a portion of any money recovered in the suit, WTOP reported.
In 2014, Universal was cited for the second straight year by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 14 health and safety workplace violations in 2013, 10 of which were repeats of violations found during an inspection in August 2012.
A whistleblower lawsuit and subsequent inspections have identified problems with concrete panels made for new stations on the expansion of the Metro line in Washington, D.C., which were manufactured by Universal Concrete in Stowe.