U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), has introduced legislation to block the import of substandard building materials. Consumers in Florida and elsewhere complained of allergy-like symptoms apparently resulting from a sulfur compound wafting from Chinese drywall in their homes.
Americans expect structural building materials to be safe and effective, Stupak said. Industry testing and recent media accounts indicate much of the building materials pouring into the United States from overseas, particularly from China, are unsafe and unreliable.
Stupak's bill also addresses concerns about substandard steel from China. In April 2008 the Congressional Steel Caucus held a hearing on the steel questioned and determined that U.S. Customs inspectors do not have the authority to reject inferior steel and cannot ensure that it will not end up in U.S. infrastructure.
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is the federal agency charged with enforcing trade laws at the border, but has no authority to enforce product safety standards. Stupak asked the agency to report back on CBPs current authority and what additional authority is needed to make sure substandard steel is not used in the United States, as well as what if any additional resources would be required for enforcement.
The Michigan Congressman said that Chinas increased steel production has severe consequences for American steel producers, as well as domestic industries that use steel. Currency manipulation and policies by the Chinese government have encouraged substandard Chinese steel to flood the U.S. market, Stupak charged. Independent laboratory tests have confirmed that significant quantities of Chinese steel do not meet high-strength requirements, he said.
This junk should be turned around and shipped right back to China, Stupak said. CBP made it clear in our discussions that they lack the authority to reject a product so I have introduced legislation to give the agency the authority to reject and not offload substandard building materials in the United States.
CBPs testimony at the 2008 hearing focused on steel. The Chinese drywall complaints are of more recent origin but have provided ammunition for Stupak and others seeking a sharp curb on Chinese building materials.
Consumers have complained of foul-smelling sulfuric odors and gases that are corroding electrical wiring in homes and may be responsible for chronic health problems. An estimated 35,000 homes have been affected in Florida, along with homes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia.
Although there are no high-profile documented cases of substandard cement entering the United States, Stupak included cement in the legislation as a precaution given recent reports of problems in other countries and the increased demand expected for cement as construction projects funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act begin.
A cheaper product does not save money when that product creates costly health and safety hazards for Americans, Stupak said. Federal law should ensure whether it is food, drugs, toys or building materials that the products imported into this country are held to the same rigorous health and safety standards as American-made goods. If not, then that product should never be allowed to enter our country.
Stupak, as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committees Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said he has found through 18 hearings he has held on unsafe imports of food and drugs that products are entering the United States "every minute" without proper inspection and without being held to the same safety standards as American-made goods.