Still no definitive answers on 'Chinese drywall'

Massachusetts-based Environmental Health & Engineering recently concluded a five-month indoor air quality study for the U.S. government and the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The study found a strong association between the presence of Chinese drywall, low-level concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and corrosion of metals in homes.

December 31, 2009
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Chinese Drywall Symptoms

Massachusetts-based Environmental Health & Engineering recently concluded a five-month indoor air quality study for the U.S. government and the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The study found a strong association between the presence of Chinese drywall, low-level concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and corrosion of metals in homes. (For updates on the Chinese drywall situation).

The EH&E study included 51 homes in five southern states. Of that group, 41 homes where property owners had reported corrosion of wiring or piping, and there were 10 similar homes about which no complaints had been filed. The findings were presented to a Congressional briefing at the U.S. Capitol just before Thanksgiving.

 

"Not all drywall is alike,'' says Jack McCarthy, president of Environmental Health & Engineering. "Not all Chinese drywall is alike. It depends on what it's made of, not the country it came from.''

To date, the CPSC has received more than 2,000 reports from residents in 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico who believe their health symptoms or the corrosion of certain metal components are related to Chinese drywall. Most cases were reported by homeowners in Florida. No official remediation procedures for homes affected with the malodorous drywall have been approved by any governmental entity.

The head of the CPSC, Inez Tenenbaum, met with government officials in Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam. Only one company, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjian, has agreed to be served with a federal class-action lawsuit and not force plaintiffs to go through international legal channels.

The Associated Press reported potentially more than 500 million pounds of the problematic wallboard entered the U.S. between 2004 and 2008. To date, at least 12 class action lawsuits involving this material have been filed in 33 states against builders, suppliers and manufacturers. As many as 36,000 homes in Florida and 100,000 nationwide are thought to contain the imported wallboard.

Contractor Bob Fitzsimmons is a partner with the law firm Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell in Florida. He is also a member of the MDL Chinese drywall committee that represents subcontractors who were named in various lawsuits across the nation. "We're still arguing over proper procedures, so it's a tough spot both the homeowners and insurance companies are in. I'm a subcontractor, so I look at it as what do we need to do to prevent cross-contamination and keep costs down," he says. "Will removing the drywall be enough or will we have to take everything down to the studs?"



 

Chinese Drywall Symptoms

In homes with suspect drywall, the EH&E study found the following conditions:

  • High rates of sulfur-based corrosion on copper and silver test coupons
  • Visible corrosion of copper wires in electrical outlets
  • Low-level concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas
  • Low ventilation rates
  • Associations of corrosion with hydrogen sulfide concentrations in air, temperature and humidity
  • A reliable real-time method of "fingerprinting" suspect drywall using state-of-the-art inspection equipment was developed and validated
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