America has been flooded by faulty foreign-made nuts, bolts, screws and washers that have caused 61 aviation accidents in three years and are installed in nuclear plants, Navy ships and the space shuttle, a congressional report said Saturday.
The 152-page report, replete with horror stories about substandard and defective fastening devices, describes the findings of a two-year study by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations.Many of the defective fasteners are counterfeit, bearing bogus manufacturing markings to make them appear authentic when they actually are cheap, foreign-made imitations, the report said.
"The millions and perhaps billions of substandard fasteners used by our military and sensitive industries make it a wonder that we haven't had a major catastrophe," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the panel chairman.
Dingell and 50 other House members introduced a bill two weeks ago to require fastening devices in "critical use" functions to be tested by qualified laboratories.
The subcommittee report quoted information from the National Transportation Safety Board that 61 general aviation accidents during the past three years involved fastener failures, resulting in several deaths.
"Given the problems with Air Force inventories, it is unlikely that commercial aircraft have avoided questionable fasteners entirely," the report said. The subcommittee said it plans to investigate further.
"Bad fasteners have been found in NASA's space shuttle equipment, and six of its fastener vendors have been discovered to have inadequate quality control systems," the report stated.
"More than taxpayers' money is at stake," it said. "The integrity of our system for procurement of military hardware is threatened and the lives of uniformed service personnel are put at risk by the suppliers of faulty materials."
Most of the defective fasteners come from Japan, Mexico, Spain, Korea, Taiwan and Poland, the report said. The motive: millions of dollars in profits by charging high prices for top-quality fasteners while providing inexpensive substitutes.
Some companies even supply fake laboratory reports to customers questioning the quality of goods, the report said.
"Several deaths have already been attributed to substandard fasteners," it said. "As regretful as this is, the subcommittee is convinced that it is only a matter of time before a major tragedy strikes unless vigorous and effective efforts are made to improve fastener quality."
More than seven billion bolts and large screws are used every year in the United States, about 1.5 billion of them a top-quality variety used for crucial functions in bridges, ships, planes, helicopters and major construction projects, the report said.
The Defense Department still does not know where, or how many, bogus fasteners are on military bases, the report said.
"We fear there are still some very unpleasant surprises waiting in the shadows," it said.
The report identified one "scofflaw" company allegedly providing counterfeit bolts as Metal Building Bolts of Houston, which has provided substandard or misrepresented parts for the U.S. Postal Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Alabama Power Co., Potomac Electric Power Co., the United Airlines terminal at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and the Louisiana Department of Transportation.
The report said an iron worker, Calvin Davis, fell to his death on Dec. 22, 1987, while tightening a substandard bolt during work on the General Motors Saturn plant in Tennessee. The bad part was supplied by Metal Building Bolts, it said.
Among other findings:
-The Army has been hit hard by bogus bolts and screws that have caused breakdowns and accidents with M-60 tanks, M-109 howitzers and pieces of mobile artillery.
-The Air Force found a fractured screw in the coupling ring of a missile; it was unmarked, although markings were required. Its source could not be traced and it remains a mystery as to how it got into the inventory system and the missile.
-Counterfeit fasteners have been discovered in the Navy's nuclear submarine program.
-Army depots are stuck with 2.6 counterfeit top-grade fasteners awaiting disposal.
-Although the Japanese manufacture and export many counterfeit bolts, they do not sell fake bolts in Japan.
-The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has known of quality problems at nuclear plants and construction sites "since at least 1982, but has yet to act to require basic preventive steps." The panel said "neither the NRC nor the nuclear industry has yet to really come to grips" with the problem.