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China silenced by illegal steel thinning

Monday 19 Sep 2011

Chinese projects on thin ice?

China silenced by illegal steel thinning by WAN Editorial
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No. of Comments: 8

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23/09/11 TAN See Chee, Singapore
All countries do need to have stringent check on local and imported construction materials. Random testings of materials are also carried out on site to verify properties by supervising professional. If all of us professional enforce the necessary quality control check diligently, we will be protected from all manufacturing defects coming from any where in the world. So the question is, have you implemented Quality Environment Health & Safety Management System? A positive defect check on one site will alert the whole country!
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22/09/11 AM, NYC
I think it is quite common for construction companies in china to not only do this thinning/pulling but to also use smaller rebar than structural engineers call for - removing the safety margin of the bar to 1.0 rather than 1.2,1.3 or such...

All in a cost cutting measure to compete on cost with other GCs... I guess inspections must be lax enough that they can get away with this...
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21/09/11 Eugenius, Brisbane
I am in the construction industry and I will make sure that my Structural Engineer checks the bars before every pour from now on. That is scary but not surprising. They used to do the same thing with wiring for early model Hyundais and after about a year the wires would melt or overheat and melt the insulation sheath causing a short circuit. Awesome stuff.
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21/09/11 R. K. Markan, Mumbai
Shocking but an excellent article. Exposes the extent China goes to 'make money' even if it means endangering lives of people in countries where such steel is exported.
These are the worst type of rebars in eartquake prone areas - and China itself is known to have vast high seismic hazard areas. Wonder if the large number of deaths in recent China quakes has some relationship with such illegal practices. Food for thought.One does not expect the Chinese authorities to come clean on such matters.
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21/09/11 Samson Rajan Babu, Dubai
Every large corporations have a factory in China and I thought it was OK considering the corporation's image & committment to quality even if they produce in China. But, in situations like this, who can assure quality? You can trust no supplier and no material if made in China. Even corporations can fail to monitor the incoming material quality and I do not want to take that risk.
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21/09/11 Larry B., San Francisco
Thinned reinforcement bars? After lead in children's toys, melamine in dried milk, schools collapsing due to criminally shoddy construction, why is this not a surprise?
20/09/11 Matthew Jackson, Hove
Great article, although I am unfortunately not surprised. Surely there must be some health and safety or building control to reject the steel? Also concerns me this steel could be exported all over the world and unless each piece is checked could threaten a buildings stability.

Keep up the good work Sian
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20/09/11 Evaristo Ares, Mexico DF
I didn't know about this practice of pulling steel rods for profit. It scares to think about it!
These rods are not only thinner. The steel they are made of has already stressed beyond its plastic threshold and has not much elasticity anymore before reaching its breaking point. Selling them as standard spec steel rods is criminal.
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As rumours emerge of illegal steel thinning in Zhengzhou, all goes quiet on the Chinese front... 

One trillion. This is the number of American dollars allocated for infrastructure projects in China over the next five years. Zhengzhou. This is the location of the latest ‘stretching’ factory in China pulling steel reinforcement rods to illegal diameters and threatening the lives of countless citizens who will use the infrastructure projects constructed using these substandard materials.

This week a surprisingly small article in British newspaper The Times detailed the discovery of illicit practices at a Zhengzhou ‘stretching’ factory where steel reinforcement rods used in a number of construction projects had been pulled to a thickness below regulatory standards.

The reasons for this are simple - 10mm wide rods can be easily stretched to a thickness of 8.5mm, creating many additional metres of metal then sold on for profit - but the resolution is not. Despite countless assertions from experts that pulling these essential building components to inadequate diameters will weaken a structure and endanger the lives of its users, construction companies in China are still being found operating under such measures.

This is not a new phenomenon however. In September 2011 a number of construction firms in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province were ordered to stop using thin reinforcement rods which had been stretched below regulatory standards, with Liu Lin, Director of the Construction and Real Estate Management Department under the Xi’an Industry and Commercial Administration Bureau explaining: “By making the steel bar thin, both the processing plants and the construction firms decrease their cost, but these bars will do harm to the quality of the building projects.”

Similarly in June this year the construction of the Ninghang high-speed railway was rocked by claims that 2.2km of safety barriers had been wrongfully installed using steel rods pulled from 6.5mm to 5.8mm and 8mm to 6.9mm. The groups leading the scheme were fined 100,000 yuan and the contractor, Hongye Traffic Facility from Yiyang, allegedly blacklisted. Reporting on the case, local news site China.org.cn was told by an official that: “The railway’s construction slowed down recently and quality inspectors failed to launch intense inspections as usual, which caused the loophole.”

Despite the severity of this issue and the immense ramifications it poses to the safety of civilians, none of the engineers, construction firms or steel research institutes WAN appealed to for comment were happy to venture an official opinion, many keen to state that they had little or no knowledge of the matter at hand.

Thinning reinforcement rods is not illegal but when practiced to excess can lead to a reduction in the effectiveness of the metal. Fan Zhong from the China Architecture Design and Research Group clarifies: “Over-stretching the steel bars will cause them to become brittle and weak, and less resistant to earthquakes,” a point confirmed by Wu Chengcai, General Engineer at the Shaanxi Provincial Building Research Institute, who comments: “When a building suffers great external force such as an earthquake, the stronger, standard steel bars will ‘stretch’ as the building suffers the damage, thus slowing the process of its collapse for people to escape. However, the buildings with the substandard, thin steel bars will collapse very quickly.”

With a marked history of earthquakes across the nation, China has upped its building regulations in recent years and yet somehow the practice of illegal steel thinning has continued to thrive. The potential human cost of stretching reinforcement rods for backhand cash is inconceivable for the majority of people but this remains a very real threat as China presses forward with an unyielding construction schedule, leaving many questions unanswered.

Sian Disson
News Editor

WAN Editorial

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