Battelle demonstrates how to detect corrosion inside metal pieces

Passers by look at the fire ball ride as Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers stand guard at the Ohio State Fair Thursday, July 27, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Could corrosion on the Fireball ride at the Ohio State Fair have been prevented, detected and fixed? The ride manufacturer, KMG International, said excessive corrosion is to blame for the accident that killed 18-year-old Tyler Jarrell and injured seven others.

NBC4 recently visited Battelle, a global research and development organization in Columbus, to learn about the science behind corrosion.

Battelle took us inside its Fatigue and Structures Laboratory where it literally breaks things. At the lab, it tests parts for planes, pipelines, even nuclear power plants. The goal is to make materials like metal stronger and last longer.

Battelle Research Leader Rick Olson said one of the things that makes metals weaker is corrosion. Olson said corrosion is easy to prevent and fix, but more difficult to detect.

“Corrosion occurs in all metals all the time and it is a huge problem in all industries,” said Olson.

Olson said for a couple hundred dollars you can get an ultrasonic thickness tool to check for corrosion by measuring metal thickness. The problem is it can only take a dime size measurement at a time.

“Imagine you’ve got 10,000 square feet of material to examine, how do you know where to look? You just don’t know where to look,” he said.

Olson says corrosion is simply rust. It’s caused by being out in the elements, exposed to moisture and salt.

“Everything that is metal is subject to corrosion, that’s why we put paint on your cars.”

While the Fireball ride looked good from the outside… without using an ultrasonic tool, he said it’s impossible to know what was going on inside, unless you cut it open.

“It is not the least bit surprising that it wasn’t detected,” he said. “It’s not obvious. It’s not obvious, particularly if you have a structure where it’s closed.”

Nothing lasts forever.

“It gets thinner and thinner with every passing year unless you do something,” said Olson.

According to a document provided by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, NBC4 has learned a third party inspector, Soil Consultants, Inc. based out of Charleston, South Carolina performed an ultrasonic examination of the Fireball in October of 2016.

According to its report, it inspected the ride’s 24 gondola arm pins for defects and found no defective pins.

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