Wired Magazine is out with a report of poor quality concrete potentially many major buildings at risk of collapse.

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Construction on the Ping’an Financial Center, slated to tower over Shenzhen when completed in 2015, has been delayed after concrete used in its construction was found to contain corrosion-causing sea sand.
Photo: Sean_Marshall/Flickr

Inspections by state officials have found raw, unprocessed sea sand in at least 15 buildings under construction in Shenzhen, including a building which, when finished, was set to become China’s tallest.

Bloomberg reports that the financial incentive to use illegal sea sand, which is far cheaper than legal river sand, is the likely reason for the problem. Untreated sea sand is unsuitable for construction because it still contains chlorine and salt, which corrodes steel — river sand from freshwater channels doesn’t have that problem.

It can take only a few decades for a building to become dangerously unsafe if untreated sea sand is used in its concrete — including the possibility of collapse. While this scandal has been confined only to Shenzhen thus far, the possibility of it spreading to other Chinese cities is cause for concern. The country currently has nine of the 20 tallest buildings in the world under construction, while there were reportedly so many skyscrapers under construction in 2011 that it worked out as a new one being topped out every five days right through into 2014.

A theme through this blog over the years has been that the market, left to its own devices, leads to those who skirt the boundaries of what is legal eventually crossing over to what’s illegal end up with a price advantage that drives out the legitimate businesses. Its a race to the bottom. China is not unique as the USA’s Wall Street bank frauds show how we can do it here as well. But the outcome is likely to be the same – mass devastation.  The folks in finance in the US even have a term for it – IBG YBG – “I’ll be gone. You’ll be gone”. I’m sure that’s what many of these Chinese construction companies are thinking. They’ll be gone or out of business or left the country when the building collapses.