Editor's note: The information on pool repairs has been updated.

Leander resident Sachin Patel always dreamed of affording a backyard pool for his children, but shortly after building one in 2019, his dream began to crumble.

In just five months, he noticed spider-like cracks oozing with white gel spreading along the outside wall of his pool.

Patel would soon learn he was among thousands of Central Texas pool owners burdened with the same defect—“concrete cancer.”

The rundown

Primarily found in Austin-area pools built between 2017 and 2023, concrete cancer, also known as alkali silica reaction, or ASR, is a defect in concrete mixtures that causes the shell of a pool to weaken and crack until it can no longer hold water.

While some pool builders offer warranties, the issue has become so widespread that several area companies have declared bankruptcy, leaving families like the Patels without financially feasible repair options.

In Travis and Williamson county, lawsuits are piling up as pool owners seek legal recourse against their builders and concrete suppliers.

“The multimillion-dollar question at the heart of ongoing litigation is who is responsible; where in the supply chain did something go wrong?” said attorney Michael Lovins, who has represented parties on both sides of the issue.

While investigations are still underway, multiple industry leaders told Community Impact they suspect insufficient amounts of a key ingredient in concrete mixtures, among other theories.

The context

The demand for backyard recreation jumped during the pandemic, but at the time, no pool company in Texas had even heard of ASR, said John Ford, Front2Back Custom pool repair expert.

“After the big freeze back in 2021, people started noticing the cracks, but many mistook it for a cosmetic issue and just used temporary fixes,” said Ford, who used to build for Premier Pools.

Signs of ASR can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to reveal themselves, but according to concrete scientists, the defect is nothing new.

Researcher Juan Armenta of Texan Concrete Construction Solutions said ASR is a “chemical reaction gone wrong” between the akali materials of cement, which act like the glue of concrete, and the silica materials, such as sand or gravel, which provide strength.

“It’s not just [in] pools. It’s affecting sidewalks, driveways, patios, foundations, but it’s accelerated because of the warm water in pools touching the concrete 24/7,” Armenta said.
Pool builders subcontract concrete suppliers, who deliver and 'shoot' the concrete onsite. (Kameryn Griesser/Community Impact)

Why now?

Several of those involved in ongoing litigation told Community Impact that defective concrete mixtures may have received an insufficient amount of fly ash, a cement material produced by burning coal.

Due to recent Environmental Protection Agency measures, Texas production has dwindled, making the material more expensive and harder to come by, Armenta said.

“The best explanation I’ve heard is that the price of fly ash has been going up rapidly over the last several years, and so in order to save money, some of these concrete companies stopped putting enough in [their mix],” Lovins said.

Armenta said forensic teams are also trying to determine if the problem originated from sand pits in the Bastrop area–hence why the cases are mostly isolated to the Central Texas region.

“It could be that the sand was not washed properly, or something deposited in the land thousands of years ago caused it to be overly reactive. We just don’t know yet,” Armenta said.

What residents should know

While there are several visual warning signs of ASR, Ford said the only way to confirm the defect’s presence, especially for legal purposes, is to drill out concrete core samples and have them tested in a lab, which can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000.

Because ASR is typically not isolated to one area of the pool, most repairs involve a complete demolition and recreation of the concrete shell, which can cost more than double the original price of the pool, according to builders.

“It’s financially devastating for the families and the pool builders,” Lakeway pool owner Jodi Gregg said. “You sink so much of your financial resources into something and you trust the insurance companies can ensure the asset will last, and then that system breaks down.”

Cedar Park resident Phil Hampsten said engineers quoted him over $150,000 to rebuild his $85,000 pool built in 2019. While Hampsten had a lifetime warranty on the pool, he said the builder’s insurance could not cover the costs.

“It’s been such a nightmare,” said Hampsten, who opted to demolish and refill the hole to create a patio. “Without compensation, we couldn’t bear sinking more money into building another pool.”

Gregg and Hampsten are among the 200 parties involved in a multidistrict litigation against the concrete supplier Easy Mix, who did not respond to a request for comment.

John Ford of Front2Back Custom helps residents rebuild and repair their pools. (Courtesy John Ford)

Those who purchased their home with a pool may not be as lucky when seeking litigation for ASR issues, Lovins said.

Round Rock resident Arjun Okkath, for example, said he is not entitled to the same lifetime warranty that the original builder had on his pool.

"The most practical thing for us to do financially at this point is to just fill the hole," Okkath said.

The bigger picture

Pool builders and pool owners agree the problem was likely preventable.

“Texas is the wild, wild west when it comes to pool building,” Ford said. “Anyone can become a pool builder here; you don’t need a license.”

Armenta, who serves on the board of the Central Texas Pool and Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA), explained that a lack of education about ASR within the pool industry, combined with the state’s lax codes for pool concrete, created “the perfect storm” at a time when demand for backyard recreation was at its highest.

In a statement to Community Impact, the national branch of the PHTA said the organization is working to educate builders about quality control measures that can be taken when working with subcontractors.

Mike Church, CEO of Cody Pools, which built several of the pools affected by ASR, said the company “no longer uses the implicated [concrete] companies for fulfillment of customer orders.”

If the current litigation against Easy Mix—the largest ASR-related lawsuit to date—is successful, involved pool owners could be compensated for the cost of their repairs, Lovins said.

The PHTA recommended homeowners with newly built pools or plans to build a pool inquire with their builder about an inspection and construction details.

AJ Miller, an Austin pool owner turned ASR educator, recommends current pool owners search for testimonials on social media, where hundreds have shared their ASR stories.

“You went from the pool being one of the best things to buy to now being terrified that this could happen to you,” Miller said. “It’s unfortunate, but really the only thing that we can do is look at the data and crowdsource this information.”

What city officials are saying

Several Austin-area cities confirmed they are aware of residents facing ASR-issues.

However, Lakeway city manager Joseph Molis said, in general, cities do not require concrete mix tests as a part of the permitting process for residential pools.

“The best any city may be able to do is offer a waiver for the re-permitting fee associated with remodeling ... but we are still looking into how to do that,” Molis said.