The Testwell Case: Was the Public Protected?

Re-testing has been performed on only a few buildings

Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau warned the public last October about the results of an investigation of a company that was supposed to test concrete in many buildings. The tests, the prosecutor found, were not done properly. 

"These actions endanger the lives of the public; that makes these charges doubly serious," Morgenthau said.

The company, Testwell Laboratories, is the city's leading concrete-testing firm. Some of its officials were indicted, charged with failing to perform strength tests and billing clients, including some government agencies, for work they didn't do. 

The New York Times has just reported that, a year after New York City said it had a plan to re-test the concrete in many buildings because Testwell had failed to do so, the re-testing has been performed on only a handful buildings. The Goldman Sachs building is one of a just a handful where concrete has been re-tested.  Sixty buildings, according to reporter William Rashbaum, were supposed to be examined. 

The delay in re-evaluating the strength of the concrete is caused by the nature and complexity of the job, said Tony Sclafani, a spokesman for the Buildings Department.

"I can tell you," Sclafani said, "this is a monumental effort because the scope of work in unprecedented. There is no accepted standard to retest concrete on this scale, and we have been working with more than 50 engineers associated with the buildings named in the indictment to develop a protocol  to ensure all the tests were done properly."

Sclafani said that three buildings that have been retested -- Yankee Stadium, Goldman Sachs and a part of New York Hospital -- are considered safe.  

Last fall, a lawyer for the company, David Smith, read a statement outside the courtroom, denying the charges on behalf of the company president, V. Reddy Kancharla, saying: "Mr. Kancharla vehemently denies these charges and the way in which he and his company have been characterized. Now that we know the theory of the DA's case, we are confident that it is critically flawed and that Mr. Kancharla will be vindicated."

The Testwell case will be tried this fall. 

The issue seems to boil down to this:  Did Testwell test well? Has the city government re-tested well?

The DA told me: "The building code makes testing part of a safety net to protect the public. In this case, the safety net was broken."

It all dramatizes the vulnerability that New Yorkers face. Every day we walk by miles and miles of concrete buildings  We assume they are safe and indeed city officials believe they are safe.  But, If there are flaws in the system of testing and inspection, it's time these flaws were exposed and corrected.

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