On the Lookout for Problem Steel Imports

Following a summer that included several recalls of Chinese-made products, including toys, pet food and toothpaste, questions are being raised about the quality of steel imported from China. The American Institute of Steel Construction recently reported that a number of companies in the United States. and Canada, including producers of hollow structural sections (HSS) and steel service centers, have sponsored a limited number of tests by independent testing facilities on HSS material imported from China, as well as HSS material produced in North America. As a result of those independent tests, the companies have raised questions about the mechanical properties of the imported HSS, as well as the credibility and reliability of the documentation provided when the products entered the U.S. and Canada from some of the newer sources in the market.

AISC has not been involved in any of the HSS testing, nor has it reviewed the test data, according to Roger Ferch, AISC president. “We believe it is premature to draw any conclusions from any of the tests that have been conducted,” he said.

AISC is seeking to compile all available test data from its members and others in the steel industry willing to provide their test data. AISC requests anyone who has sponsored recent tests on imported or domestic HSS to contact Roger Ferch at ferch@aisc.org.

The steel in question is commonly used in the construction of power lifts, cranes, trailer hitches, skyscrapers, commercial buildings, and bridges, according to The Kiplinger Letter, a weekly newsletter that reports on business trends and forecasts. The article, titled “New Threat from China: Shoddy Steel Imports,” reported that China provides 25 percent of the high strength steel, and predicted that steel imports will likely plunge as a result of reports of failures during initial fabrication and questions about certification documents.

Steel Business Briefing, a London, England-based news provider for the global steel industry, reported on Aug. 27 that most Chinese traders say they have not heard any reports of exports of hollow structural sections to the United States being faulty. SBB reported that tests of some Chinese tubing found it did not meet the minimum requirements of the ASTM A-500 standard, although the mill test reports showed the material to be in compliance. A Chinese trader says that few mainland producers can manufacture to ASTM standards, and most hollow sections are made to adhere only to Chinese standards.

One trader who had heard of the issue told SBB that bad freight handling might be one reason for reportedly damaged material arriving in the United States.