There is a "strong association" between Chinese drywall, rotten egg-smelling hydrogen sulfide, and the corrosion of metal in U.S. homes, according to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released Nov. 23.
“In ways still to be determined, hydrogen sulfide gas is being created in homes built with Chinese drywall,” the CPSC statement said. “Earlier studies found large amounts of elemental sulfur in the Chinese drywall.”
There have been no fires caused by corroding wires or electrical fixtures, said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the CPSC on a conference call for media Nov. 23.
No studies have been released on the health effects homeowners have complained about—including nose bleeds, bronchitis, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and irritated eyes. Many affected houses have a rotten-egg-like smell, metal is turning black, and appliances are failing.
“We’re still working towards that specific nexus between the health effects reported to us and the drywall itself,” said Wolfson. “That’s a commitment we certainly have to these affected families. We've been in those homes. We've felt it. I felt it, the chairman of CPSC has felt it.”
Most of the 2,100 homeowners who have complained about the drywall live in Florida and Louisiana. A domestic shortage of drywall following hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and nationwide building booms meant companies imported more from China. Enough of the tainted material was imported to build an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 homes nationwide, but around half ended up in Florida.
Imports have been banned from China and safety officials are continuing to investigate. A task force will now develop a screening process and remediation method, said CPSC chairman Inez Tenenbaum.
“Ongoing studies will examine health and safety effects, but we are now ready to get to work fixing this problem.”
Testing too Narrow, Says Consultant
Michael Foreman, a Florida-based construction consultant who has been involved in the testing and remediation process, said the CPSC is “putting all [its] eggs into one basket” with the testing.
“They [CPSC] did extensive analysis,” he said. “But they’re still overlooking the biological or the organic aspect of it, and concentrating on the mineral reaction of it. And I’m not 100 percent sure that’s going to be as fruitful as they all seem to think.”
Several of the 51 houses tested in the CPSC study also belong to his clients.
Foreman said the drywall comes from a dozen different mines in China that use a minimum of 10 different processes; and with 30 manufacturers there will not be one consistent product.
Remediation processes will have to reflect those differences, he said, as well as the differences in construction types between houses. The homes his company has remediated have been stripped to the building shell. They install new electrical wiring, plumbing, drywall, wood trim, carpet, and insulation—a process that takes about four months. His company has competed almost 100 houses.
Displaced Homeowners Losing Hope
Wolfson said many homeowners have been displaced, but some are still in the homes and suffering health effects.
Homeowners in Florida who have been forced out of their homes after getting sick from the drywall are losing hope, said John Willis, a lawyer who moved out of his Parkland, Florida, home in April after his family suffered serious health problems.
“Our street looks like a ghost town,” Willis said in a previous interview. “Everybody’s trying to find a way to buy a new house, or do something, but no one with success.”
Willis and his family were forced to move and now face rental costs as well as a mortgage on a home they can neither sell nor live in.
His insurance company declined to handle a claim, and with his credit rating now in tatters, he cannot buy a new home. “And the estimates to fix my home is $300,000 and up,” he said. “It’s turned into a disaster … with no immediate help coming.”
The CPSC has asked for cooperation from Chinese officials to identify the sources of the drywall and the cause of the problems, Wolfson said. “We’re looking for a just and fair approach specifically by the manufacturers of the drywall that was exported to the U.S. It’s so important.”
The drywall investigation is now the largest in CPSC’s history, he said. “To date CPSC has spent more than $3.5 million on the drywall investigation and committed almost 15 percent of its staff to working on the matter.”
Recommendations to Affected Homeowners
Federal and state health experts suggest these steps to improve indoor air quality and to reduce exposure to substances that can cause health concerns:
– Open windows as much as possible to let in fresh air.
– Keep the temperature inside homes at the lowest comfortable setting.
– Run the air conditioner or dehumidifier.
– Also, spend as much time outdoors in fresh air as possible.
– Do not smoke, and especially do not smoke indoors. Cigarette smoke contains, among other contaminants, formaldehyde.
Homeowners who believe they may have problem drywall should immediately report to CPSC by calling 800-638-2772 or logging on to www.CPSC.gov
SOURCE: Consumer Product Safety Commission