China Lead Paint Crisis Spreads to Commercial Sector

Problems with dangerous lead, found in contaminated toys and children's products from China, extend to the steel used in everything from condominiums to factories in the United States. The imported building materials pose a potential health hazard because they are coated with paint containing lead, which is rarely used on American steel.

The chief operating officer at one of the largest firms that makes money by inspecting imported building materials for lead content tells that his company has found dangerously high levels of lead paint in large shipments of commercial steel coming from at least two different Chinese factories.

Daniel Adley, COO of inspection firm KTA Tator, said that multiple shipments of steel, sent to two different American firms, were designed for use in structures such as condominiums and factories in America – and that some of the contaminated steel may have been installed.

"At least two customers had multiple projects involving multiple shipments of large quantities of steel that was fabricated in some of the Pacific Rim countries, including and specifically China, and it came into this country with very high lead content," Adley said.

This news indicates that retail manufacturers, including toymakers Mattel and Hasbro, are not the only companies struggling with Chinese factories looking to cut corners by producing unsafe leaded products. Commercial companies that do not have to publicly announce a recall because their goods are not sold commercially seem to be facing these issues, too.

Adley said that the hazardous steel would cost an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up. If untreated, it could pose a slew of safety hazards to construction workers, the environment and the general population, he said.

"The shipments caused tremendous problems for our customers," said Adley, whose company was contracted by the steel importing firms to test the material for lead paint.

In order to protect his customers' confidentiality, Adley would not identify which firms imported the steel, nor would he name the Chinese factories that made it.

"It doesn't surprise us that steel coated outside the United States, where these issues are not regulated, contains lead," said Michael Damiano, the director of product development for the Society for Protective Coatings, a nonprofit group that creates standards for coatings. KTA's Adley did confirm that one of the two firms spent a large amount of money, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars, to remove the lead paint from the Chinese steel. However, Adley said he did not know if the second firm also cleaned up the steel before installing it, or whether it simply noted where it had installed the contaminated material.

In the United States there is no explicit ban on the use of lead paint in commercial steel, and Adley said it is very likely that some contaminated steel from China has found its way into America's infrastructure. Approximately 2.6 million tons of finished steel was imported from China in the first half of this year, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

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