Not all of China’s exports are welcome

November 11, 2011

Tis the Season for consumers to be looking for the perfect gift - many of these made in China. But China is also exporting not-so-perfect gifts to the U.S. We are aware of the thousands of containers coming from China as that country exports millions of products to the U.S., including molds, mold components, machine parts and other metal products. However, hidden in these shipments of metal components and products is an unwelcome export - radiation.

In response to my article about U.S. moldmakers shipping molds to foreign countries, one mold manufacturer's shipping/receiving person sent me a notice he received on Nov. 8 from the Los Angeles Customers Brokers & Freight Forwarders Assn. The LACBFFA was alerted by Customs & Border Protection (CBP) that "they are finding radiation contaminated shipments coming from China. More specifically these articles are made of metal that contain nuisance levels of radiation. Shipments containing any radiation contaminated articles will be refused and must be re-exported from the United States. In some cases, CBP will refuse the entry of an entire container."

The LACBFFA is asking its members to let their customers know that "CBP is finding contaminated various metal articles from China and that their suppliers should check their sources of metal for the manufacturing of products destined to the United State."

This problem isn't new. In a 2009 article by Isaac Wolf for Scripps News Service, it was noted that many metal products coming from China had unacceptable levels of radiation. Several metal recycling facilities had to shut down and be cleaned after melting the metals down and then finding high levels of radiation. In 2006, for example, a Texas metal recycling facility "inadvertently created 500,000 lb of radioactive steel byproducts after melting metal contaminated with Cesium-137," Wolf wrote, adding examples going back more than 10 years.

Radioactive metals know many sources

And to be fair, China isn't the only culprit. Metals containing radiation have also come from Brazil, Russia and Eastern European countries as well, and that has to worry moldmakers and other metal fabricators who machine various metals from around the globe, every day.

Just this week (week of Nov. 7) the AP reported on a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which was examining the practice of "sprinkling," which involves contaminating a shipment of authentic parts and components with counterfeit ones so that the fake parts won't be detected. Many of these shipments involving about 1800 cases of suspect counterfeit electronics were being sold to the Pentagon to be installed in weapons systems and military aircraft, with the total number of suspect counterfeit parts topping 1 million. The semiconductor industry estimates that counterfeiting costs $7.5 billion a year in lost revenue and about 11,000 U.S. jobs, according to the AP report.

 China is also inadvertently "exporting" Ozone. A CBS report that is now nearly two years old noted that ozone blowing to the U.S. from Asia is "raising background levels" of the pollutant over California, Oregon, Washington and other Western States. While the levels were small, the report said that "they have been steadily rising since 1995 and probably longer." The data was collected from an observatory on top of Mount Bachelor in Oregon, where instruments "regularly detect mercury, soot, and cancer-causing PCBs" most likely from the burning of more coal and oil in China.

Perhaps the 'Made in America' mantra will catch on in even bigger ways if companies and consumers begin to see the really big picture of the dangers that Chinese exports present to the United States - not just in terms of ozone pollutants or radioactive metals or counterfeit electronics components, but of lost profits and jobs as well. We just might be able to turn this ship around after all!

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