Chinese Drywall Misery

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Chinese involvement, American greed, and acting before thinking often equate disaster and law suits. When will we learn?

Chinese drywall, America’s housing boom, hurricanes, and various industry oversights have caused immense misery for thousands of unsuspecting home dwellers these past five years. Assessing blame is predictable but often misdirected without obtaining all the facts. At this point, this is what we know.

During the ‘build it & they will come’ era and after numerous tumultuous hurricanes damaged or annihilated innumerable homes and businesses, rebuilding was frenzied albeit somewhat out of control. U.S. manufacturers could not produce enough drywall to meet the overwhelming demand so millions of square feet of plasterboard was purchased from abroad.

It’s estimated that more than 500 million pounds of possibly deficient Chinese drywall entered America between 2004 and 2008. An Associated Press statement said that was enough material to build about 100,000 homes. The price was right too—cheaper than the U.S. product.

An immediate concern was the stinky Chinese drywall reportedly exuded sulfur fumes that smelled like “rotten eggs” and caused air conditioning coils to corrode. Soon complaints of sinus and respiratory ailments surfaced. Some situations were so severe that residents had to vacate their dream homes. Perplexed contractors began gutting and replacing drywall.

The turmoil began in Florida when Tallahassee’s Department of Health’s (DOH) central office, Division of Environmental Health, received its first call in June 2008. A worried homeowner complained of sulfur odors and carbon disulfide related to drywall. Throughout the summer and fall, the DOH documented additional inquiries of mysterious sulfur-like odors and copper corrosion from a private consultant and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

More Florida counties reported related problems. The EPA considered gypsum drywall as a possible culprit but thought the association unlikely or widespread. Meanwhile, Environ, a consultant for Lennar (a south Florida homebuilder), investigated the smell and corrosion in homes with Chinese drywall and offered to share their findings with the DOH who had hired a state toxicologist.

In November, as media interest increased, DOH Environmental Health identified peculiar data gaps and other information that ‘needed to address Chinese drywall and its potential health effects.

The scenario is not unique to Florida. Frustrated homeowners in at least 12 other states are facing foreclosure or being stuck with both their mortgage and rent for healthier housing while seeking relief from uninhabitable conditions. Victims contend corrosive gasses emitted from suspect Chinese drywall not only cause household appliances and copper wiring to fail but create chronic respiratory and other health afflictions.

Now all the big relevant federal agencies are involved, as they well should be. The CDC, EPA, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are ascertaining the probable health effects of this stuff. State health departments are still actively seeking answers. Definitive results are down the road but some progress was made.

On May 19 the EPA announced that it found sulfur, a corrosive agent, in the tested Chinese drywall samples but not in the U.S. made ones. In addition, strontium levels were 10 times higher in Chinese specimens. That particular metal is often used in manufacturing television screen glass. The EPA also discovered two elements usually found in acrylic paints in the Chinese drywall but not in the U.S. samples.

However, the agency was quick to point out that these results are not intended to establish an absolute link between the drywall and problems occurring in peoples’ homes.

A dubious Florida couple noticed blackened copper on their home’s corroded air conditioning unit. They aren’t waiting for conclusive government studies…they have all the evidence they need. They are moving before health problems become intolerable.

Presently, Florida’s DOH has updated its reported Chinese drywall cases to 312 in 27 counties—up from 298 as of April 27. That’s just Florida. Although not all Chinese drywall is bad, speculation suggests that this is only the beginning for the U.S. More states will discover and experience the tainted material that has already turned many homeowners’ lives upside down.

What you should do: Check the inside air handler of your air conditioner (inside the apartment or house, not outside). Look at the copper tubing on the evaporator coil. If it is black, bring in a professional. Also examine jewelry, mirrors, plumbing fixtures, door hinges, light fixtures—just about everything—for corrosion or significant darkening.