Surfside condo collapse

Researcher Warns About Sea Level Rise Impacting Buildings Like Champlain Towers South

Environmental issues may be one of several factors which could have contributed to the Surfside collapse

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Investigators continue to look into what was the official cause of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South nearly a year ago.

A local researcher studying sea level rise told NBC 6 Investigators that saltwater intrusion may have played a role in damaging the foundations of the building. 

Most building foundations are made with steel-reinforced concrete. The concrete can absorb salt water, leading to corrosion of the steel inside. 

“When the tragic collapse happened a year ago, it caught my eye,” said Randall Parkinson, a research professor at Florida International University.

In November 2021, Parkinson published the first peer-reviewed study looking into the potential impact of sea level saltwater intrusion on residential buildings in South Florida. 

He used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and found the groundwater rose above the Champlain Towers basement floor an average of 244 times a year from 1994 to 2006, then 636 times a year from 2007 to 2020. 

"You see it all the time, balconies that need repair,” Parkinson said. “But I think in these cases you can see it. You can stand on your balcony and say, 'I need someone to take a look at this.' I think at issue here, what really changed the way we think about this now is that these are out of sight, out of mind.”

In December, a Miami-Dade County grand jury investigating the collapse wrote that saltwater intrusion had probably damaged the foundation of Champlain Towers South. 

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University found similar results in another study. 

“These were issues that were just ignored,” Parkinson said. "Unfortunately Surfside was a disaster waiting to happen.”

These environmental issues may be one of several factors which could have contributed to the collapse. NBC 6 Investigators revealed the condo association delayed millions of dollars in repairs over pushback about a hefty assessment. 

Condo owners were also concerned over construction across the street at 87 Park, which neighbors claimed shook parts of their building. 

Both were part of the more than $1 billion settlement reached after the collapse. All companies involved deny responsibility. 

Investigators have not yet determined the official cause of the collapse — that could take years. However, Parkinson said this should be a warning to all the buildings on the barrier islands. Sea level rise will pose a nuisance and a threat in South Florida from here on out. 

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