The Little Known Cost of Canada’s Corroding Infrastructure
Development and Innovation When looking at the cost of major infrastructure investments, it is only too easy to fall into the trap of considering only the up-front capital costs.
However, ongoing maintenance costs make up a substantial portion of the whole-life cost of most infrastructure projects. And, one of the most significant contributors to increased maintenance costs and reduced lifespans in infrastructure projects is corrosion — most familiarly known as rust.
One 2003 study estimated that the total annual direct and indirect impact of corrosion on the Canadian economy had a staggering $46.4 billion price tag. That’s roughly 2.5 percent of Canada’s gross domestic product. Frustratingly, NACE International, the preeminent worldwide authority on corrosion, asserts that nearly 50 percent of these corrosion costs are preventable through the use of proper techniques at the time of construction and over the lifetime of the project.
There are many techniques for preventing corrosion, but one of the simplest and most effective is a properly applied coating. However, not all coatings are created equal. “A lot of bridges and other structures fail sooner than they should because the proper coating was not applied,” says Joe Russo, Business Manager/Secretary Treasurer of District Council 46 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT). “By applying the proper coatings, with finishes that provide corrosion protection, we could extend the life of some of these bridges to as much as double their current lifespan.”
The proper protection, improperly applied, is no protection at all
Equally as important as using the correct coating is ensuring that it is applied correctly. Corrosion protection is a vital part of protecting Canada’s infrastructure assets and we can ill afford to see these assets rust away due to critical tasks being assigned to improperly trained technicians. “Even if you have the right type of coating, if you don’t apply it properly it’s the same as not applying the proper product,” says Russo. “You have to ensure that both facets are covered: both the proper qualities of the coating and the proper individuals to apply it.”
Proper corrosion prevention is important for Canada’s transportation infrastructure, but the need for the best techniques to be employed by the best trained people becomes even more evident when we consider some of our other infrastructure assets. Ontario’s nuclear power plants are exposed not only to the exterior element of the Canadian environment, but also to incredible internal pressures from steam and heavy water, making corrosion prevention vital to our safety as well as to the continued operation of our electricity infrastructure. “When you look at the structures that contain the reactors, the whole structure of the power plant, corrosion cannot be allowed to happen in those places,” says Russo. “And this is why the proper application of these coatings by the proper people is paramount in a facility such as a nuclear power plant.”
“Even if you have the right type of coating, if you don’t apply it properly it’s the same as not applying the proper product.”
Ontario taking the long view
The good news is that the Ontario government has recommitted to ensuring that infrastructure in our province — across a number of key areas including transit and transportation — is built to the highest standards and maintained by the right people. The current government’s four-part infrastructure plan includes investment in skills as one of its pillars.
This is the sort of investment that is needed to ensure that the future of Ontario’s infrastructure remains secure. Members of cabinet have bought in to the importance of that long-view thinking. “These investments are critical to supporting the needs of Ontario’s residents and businesses” says Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca. “I have two daughters — ages eight and four — and every time I talk about what we are and what we will deliver in this region, over the 10 year span that we campaigned on, I am reminded that, really, we are building this network for them and for their generation.”