Sulfate attack in concrete and mortar
Sulfate attack in concrete and mortar can be 'external' or 'internal'. External: due to penetration of sulfates in solution, in groundwater for example, into the concrete from outside. Internal: due to a soluble source being incorporated into the concrete at the time of mixing, gypsum in the aggregate, for example.
External sulfate attack
This is the more common type and typically occurs where water containing dissolved sulfate penetrates the concrete. A fairly well-defined reaction front can often be seen in polished sections; ahead of the front the concrete is normal, or near normal. Behind the reaction front, the composition and microstructure of the concrete will have changed. These changes may vary in type or severity but commonly include:
Extensive cracking Expansion Loss of bond between the cement paste and aggregate Alteration of paste composition, with monosulfate phase converting to ettringite and, in later stages, gypsum formation. The necessary additional calcium is provided by the calcium hydroxide and calcium silicate hydrate in the cement paste
The effect of these changes is an overall loss of concrete strength.
The above effects are typical of attack by solutions of sodium sulfate or potassium sulfate. Solutions containing magnesium sulfate are generally more aggressive, for the same concentration. This is because magnesium also takes part in the reactions, replacing calcium in the solid phases with the formation of brucite (magnesium hydroxide) and magnesium silicate hydrates. The displaced calcium precipitates mainly as gypsum.
Other sources of sulfate which can cause sulfate attack include
Seawater Oxidation of sulfide minerals in clay adjacent to the concrete - this can produce sulfuric acid which reacts with the concrete Bacterial action in sewers - anaerobic bacterial produce sulfur dioxide which dissolves in water and then oxidizes to form sulfuric acid In masonry, sulfates present in bricks and can be gradually released over a long period of time, causing sulfate attack of mortar, especially where sulfates are concentrated due to moisture movement.