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Editorial

Slow action on inferior steel

/ 05:08 AM September 09, 2019

The government is moving very slowly in addressing concerns about the proliferation of steel-making furnaces that are harmful to the environment and produce unsafe products. These equipment — called induction furnaces — were banned by China in 2017 as part of a crackdown on manufacturers of low-quality steel. However, these machines found their way to some countries in Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia in particular.

The proliferation of these furnaces has triggered environmental concerns on pollution and safety issues because of the low and inconsistent quality of steel they produce.

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As early as February last year, Philippine steelmakers have raised concerns that induction furnace-produced steel (mostly rebars used in construction) did not meet national quality standards and posed a big safety risk when used in building homes and high-rises, given that the Philippines is prone to earthquakes and typhoons. They urged the government to ban the importation of these furnaces that were, in the first place, already prohibited in China.

The Iron and Steel Council of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also urged members of the regional grouping in January last year to prohibit the importation of induction furnaces from China for use in steelmaking, noting that the region had become a preferred dumping ground for the obsolete and unwanted equipment.

The government actually began investigating this issue following concerns raised by local steelmakers. But after shutting down some plants using induction furnaces for environmental violations such as the lack of permits, those facilities were allowed to reopen after their owners complied with the requirements. Back then, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) had pointed out that the steel plants using induction furnaces lacked antipollution devices. It said it was not safe even for the workers and for the neighboring areas, but that it could not just ban them without justification, so
the government had to go through due process, thus the investigation.

Last week, or more than a year later, the DTI and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued a statement quoting Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu as saying that the agencies have agreed to review existing environmental standards and production technologies used in steelmaking.

There still was no outright ban, with the DTI
only saying that it would intensify its campaign for safer and higher-quality steel products, and was therefore reviewing its policies and regulations on this matter. The statement said the DTI and the DENR would form a technical working group (TWG) to align its policies and strategies, to ensure that steelmaking facilities are compliant with environmental standards and product quality. Lopez added that both agencies are studying proposed regulations on the use of secondhand equipment or
machineries in the steel industry. The TWG would also review the proposed increase in penalties imposed on manufacturers violating environmental standards or the terms and conditions in their environmental permits.

The Philippines will be needing a lot of steel, especially with the Duterte administration’s “Build, build, build” program that seeks to address the country’s lack of airports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Steel products that pass quality standard tests are needed in all these projects.

As Lopez himself pointed out during his meeting with DENR’s Cimatu: “What we need in the country are modern, environmentally friendly technologies that will consistently produce quality products. We do not want those used pollutive
induction furnaces (from China) to transfer to
our country.”

Isn’t a year and a half more than enough time to have determined with accuracy that induction furnaces—already outlawed in the neighboring giant manufacturing country for polluting and producing inconsistent quality steel products—are bad for the Philippines, and therefore should also be banned here?

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TAGS: induction furnaces, Inquirer editorial, Philippine steelmakers, substandard steel
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