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2009 Chinese drywall controversy: Wikis

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The 2009 Chinese drywall controversy is an alleged health and safety issue involving defective drywall manufactured in China and imported by the United States starting in 2004. Laboratory tests of samples for volatile chemicals have identified emissions of the sulfurous gases carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and hydrogen sulfide.[1] These emissions, which have the odor of rotten eggs, worsen as temperature and humidity rise.[1] Homeowners have reported respiratory tract infections, sinus problems and nosebleeds.[1]

In homes with the defective drywall, copper surfaces such as pipes, wiring, and air conditioner coils corrode, turning black and powdery, a chemical process indicative of reaction with hydrogen sulfide.[1]

Contents

Background

Drywall is a common building material typically made of a layer of gypsum-based plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper, then dried in a kiln. Foreign drywall was imported by the United States during the construction boom between 2004 and 2007. Importation was further spurred by a shortage of American-made drywall due to the rebuilding demand of nine hurricanes that hit Florida from 2004 to 2005, and widespread damage caused along the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. An analysis covering drywall imports since January 2006 showed that more than 550 million pounds of Chinese drywall was brought into the United States since then, enough to build 60,000 average-sized homes.[2] The problems have been attributed to the use of fly ash in the drywall, which degrades in the presence of heat and moisture; although United States' drywall uses fly ash as well, the process used creates a cleaner final product.[3]

Lab comparisons of Chinese and American-made drywall show significantly higher levels of pyrite in the Chinese material. This suggests that pyrite oxidation may be the source of the sulfur compounds released by Chinese drywall.[4]

Affected locales

In the United States, most complaints have come from states in the Southeast, where a warm and humid climate seems to encourage the emissions.[5] Florida and Virginia may have been the most heavily affected by the drywall. The Florida Department of Health has received more than 150 complaints statewide,[6][7] and as information circulates about this newly discovered defect, the agency is expecting that number to grow substantially. Some estimates say the drywall may have been used in over 100,000 homes.[8]

Companies

Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd., part of Knauf Gips KG is the primary company named as a producer of imported Chinese drywall. While other Chinese companies are suspected of producing defective drywall, Knauf's name comes up most consistently, as the company prints its name on its products.

From January to September 2006, 52 million pounds of Knauf drywall were unloaded in New Orleans, three-quarters of it from Knauf Tianjin, and at least 37 million pounds of Knauf drywall was shipped directly from China to Florida ports.[2]

In April 2009, home improvement stores The Home Depot and Lowe's confirmed from their suppliers that no drywall sold in their stores was imported from China.[9]

On November 23, 2009 CBS News reported that they had done a drywall study to compare American and Chinese drywall. Random samples of new American-made drywall in six U.S. cities, new Chinese-made drywall from China, and samples of drywall from five damaged U.S. homes were collected and sent to the University of Florida to be tested by a team of researchers led by professor Tim Townsend, a scientist and leading expert on the effects of drywall on the environment. The report results stated:

"As expected, the contaminated Chinese samples gave off high levels of sulfur gases. But all but one of the U.S. samples emitted sulfur gases, as well - not at levels as high as the defective Chinese product, but unexpected. Perhaps more surprising, "There were some American products that we tested that had higher emission than some of the new Chinese products that we tested."[10]

Federal inquiries

Discussions began in January 2009 between the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Florida officials. In February 2009, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida sent a letter to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the EPA, asking them to jointly investigate whether the Chinese drywall is toxic, and to determine the extent of potential damage to homes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission launched a formal investigation.[11]

In March 2009, as concerns about the defective drywall grew, Senator Nelson of Florida and Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana jointly introduced a resolution and bill urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall Chinese-made drywall and temporarily ban its import.[12]

In May 2009, the U. S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Mortgage Reform and Predatory Lending Act, HR 1728, that would require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to study the effects of tainted Chinese drywall on foreclosures and the availability of property insurance.[13]

On November 23, 2009 the federal government released a report that stated a "strong association" between problematic imported Chinese drywall and corrosion of pipes and wires. The Consumer Product Safety Commission said its investigation also has found a "possible" link between health problems reported by homeowners and hydrogen sulfide gas emitted from the wallboard coupled with formaldehyde, which is commonly found in new houses.[14]

Symptoms and source identifiers

Defective drywall exhibits several symptoms, including giving off a hydrogen sulfide (rotten-egg) smell that grows worse with heat and humidity, and causing blackened and corroded copper pipes and silver jewellery.[15]

A home may have been built with drywall from several sources, American and imported. Drywall usually has a source printed on the back. Chinese drywall may be marked "Made in China", "China", "Knauf Tianjin", or have no marking at all.[16]

Radioactivity concerns

Concerns were raised about the presence of phosphogypsum, gypsum formed as a by-product of processing phosphate ore into fertilizer with sulfuric acid. Phosphogypsum is radioactive due to the presence of naturally occurring uranium and radium in the phosphate ore. The substance has been banned for use in U.S construction since 1989.[17] Tests of drywall samples by the EPA and the Florida Department of Health showed some radioactivity, but at levels no higher than those ordinarily found in the natural environment.[18]

Lawsuits

Class action lawsuits claiming respiratory problems and headaches have been filed by Florida homeowners against home builders, drywall suppliers, and a Chinese drywall manufacturer.[19]

Scam warnings

The Florida Attorney General's office has warned of several deceptive practices targeted at homeowners, including bogus test kits, home inspection offers, ozone generators and chemical cleaners. The warnings point out that the presence of defective drywall cannot be determined by testing a home's air, or corrected by chemical sprays or ozone generators.[19]

References

  1. ^ a b c d Wallboard Woes: Odors and corrosion raise concern over drywall imported from China, Chemical & Engineering News
  2. ^ a b Drywall problems may just be beginning, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
  3. ^ Swiss Re. Imported Drywall: Exposures, Claims and Defenses in the United States. Insurance Information Institute.
  4. ^ William Angelo, A Material Odor Mystery Over Foul-Smelling Drywall, from the web site of Engineering News Record Construction, dated 1/28/2009.
  5. ^ Jason Hanna (March 24, 2009). "Florida: Drywall has material that can emit corrosive gas". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/03/24/chinese.drywall/. Retrieved 2009-04-12.  
  6. ^ Paul Brinkmann (March 23, 2009). "State releases findings of drywall investigation". South Florida Business Journal. http://southflorida.bizjournals.com/southflorida/stories/2009/03/23/daily5.html?ana=e_du_pap.  
  7. ^ ALLISON ROSS (March 11, 2009). "Businesses emerge to deal with Chinese-made drywall". Palm Beach Post. http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/content/business/epaper/2009/03/11/a6b_drybiz_0312.html?cxtype=rss&cxsvc=7&cxcat=6.  
  8. ^ Associated Press (April 11, 2009). "Chinese Drywall Poses Potential Risks to American Homeowners, Apartment Dwellers". Fox News. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,514636,00.html. Retrieved 2009-05-17.  
  9. ^ Home stores: No tainted drywall sold, Palm Beach Post
  10. ^ US companies made toxic drywall too http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/11/23/cbsnews_investigates/main5752469.shtml?tag=cbsnewsTwoColUpperPromoArea
  11. ^ U.S. agency sets drywall inquiry, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
  12. ^ Sens. Nelson, Landrieu call for recall, temporary ban on Chinese drywall imports, Palm Beach Post
  13. ^ House to probe drywall fallout, Bradenton Herald
  14. ^ Drywall Information Center http://www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall/index.html
  15. ^ 'Cheap' Chinese drywall is proving costly, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  16. ^ Step-by-Step Self-Assessment Guide for signs that a home may be affected by drywall imported from China, Florida Department of Health
  17. ^ Corrosive, stinking Chinese drywall may be radioactive, Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2009
  18. ^ Chinese drywall poses no radioactive threat, Bradenton Herald, August 22, 2009
  19. ^ a b Consumers warned of drywall repair scams, Miami Herald

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