China demands check on radioactive steel

July 3, 1996
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BEIJING, July 3 -- China demanded Wednesday a U.S. company send a team of experts to the country to study some highly radioactive scrap metal shipped into the northeast port city of Tianjin from Texas. 'China has sent an official inquiry, asking the U.S. side to send people to China to discuss how to handle the problem,' the Port Commission of Tianjin's municipal government said. Customs officials said Tuesday they seized 78.336 tons of contaminated waste iron and steel sent from Houston, prompting renewed charges the United States dumps unwanted rubbish in China and other developing countries. Tianjin officials said the radioactive steel was purchased by the Materials Recycling Corp. of China's Ministry of Internal Trade from the U.S. company Material Re-Sources Inc. 'According to a contract signed between the two sides last March, the steel must be high-quality waste steel from equipment used in the petroleum business,' an official told the Xinhua news agency. But laboratory tests showed radiation from the containers was 30 to 60 times more than China allows and 20 times higher than the international limit. 'The steel can be classified as material harmful to the environment and human beings,' the official said. An emergency team has been called to handle the metal stacked in seven non-standard containers and reported to Tianjin customs June 28. Since the uproar over foreign garbage erupted early May, this is the first time China pinpointed a U.S. company as the culprit in dumping unwanted rubbish into the country.

The state-run media have been denouncing the United State for dumping 640 tons of U.S. garbage consisting of dirty plastic bags, sewage, used syringes and rubber gloves outside Beijing. Additional findings prompted official investigations into imports of wastes, mostly waste paper for recycling. Last month, police in Shanghai arrested William Ping Chen, an American businessman, for alleged involvement in the illegal import of rubbish masquerading as waste paper. His arrest marked China's toughest actions over the emotive issue that has joined human rights, Taiwan, and arms sales as points of disagreement between Beijing and Washington. Although the anger has been primarily directed at the United Sates, China revealed in May the discovery of more than 100 tons of radiactive metal among scrap imported by factories in northwest Xinjiang from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for recycling with radiation levels up at 1, 000 times higher than state standards.

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