A few months ago, we were approached by a pharmaceutical client because another fire protection consultant recommended a treatment that would have done nothing to eliminate the actual cause and would have created recurring additional O&M costs with no benefits. Our diagnosis of the issue succeeded where the other experts failed. The successful diagnosis eliminated the cause of the problem and resulted in a future cost avoidance of at least $30,000.

How We Did It

We had a pharmaceutical client who experienced leaks in branch lines of their wet-sprinkler system installed in their headquarters and distribution facility. Their insurance company’s fire protection consultant had a forensic laboratory analysis done and was convinced that the leaks were a result of microbiologically influenced corrosion (MIC). MIC, where it actually exists, can be extremely destructive and difficult to eliminate. What’s worse, if left untreated or treated improperly, it can lead to expensive maintenance issues for years as well as a reduction in the reliability of the system! The insurance company expert recommended an aggressive MIC mitigation and control treatment program to take care of the problem. But would it have eliminated the cause of the problem?

Enter Harrington Group. The client turned to our fire protection consultants for a second opinion. We went to the site and investigated thoroughly. Immediately, a few things jumped out at us:

  • The sprinkler system was gridded and not equipped with air release vents – gridded systems are very susceptible to air pockets forming when the system is being filled with water;
  • the system branch lines followed the steep pitch of the roof and the leaks were at the higher elevations of the branch lines – trapped air pockets tend to move toward and settle at the highest elevations of a sprinkler system; and
  • the water supplied to the sprinkler system was from a municipal water system where there had been no indications of MIC in the sprinkler systems of the surrounding area.

Taking these points into consideration, we assumed it was most likely that these leaks were a result of oxygen-induced corrosion due to trapped air pockets in the sprinkler piping. To verify this assumption, we had the system piping inspected internally with by a scoping camera, which revealed that there was significant corrosion in about 30 feet at the highest elevation of each branch line, but no signs of corrosion beyond that at the lower elevations. This proved that the corrosion was a result of oxygen action from the presence of trapped air in the pipe and not MIC.

To combat the corrosion issue, the corroded pipe was replaced and automatic air vents were installed to allow the trapped air to be expelled from the system to prevent oxygen-induced corrosion in the future. Problem solved. The cost of our solution was about $30,000, which was lower than what would have cost for replacing the corroded piping and installing a MIC mitigation system. However, the MIC mitigation system would not have solved the problem so within a few years, our client would have been faced with the very same problems; corroded and leaking sprinkler piping.

Harrington Group, Inc.’s solution delivered substantial benefit to this client. Implementation of our recommendation actually eliminated the cause of the problem, saved our client recurring annual O&M costs for the MIC mitigation system, and most likely will allow them to avoid the cost of system repair/re-work in the not so distant future. In contrast, the insurance company’s fire consultant recommended a solution that, while the costs of implementation would have been comparable to ours, would not have eliminated the problem. The sprinkler piping would have continued to corrode and leak.

Have you ever spent a lot of money on a doctor, only to continue to suffer because the doctor only treated the symptoms and did not eliminate the cause?  You need to hire the right doctor! You need to hire the right fire protection consultant also!

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.