Homeowners forced out of their homes after getting sick from toxic drywall are losing hope, as assistance seems out of reach.
“Our street looks like a ghost town,” said John Willis, a lawyer who moved out of his Parkland, Florida, home in April after his family suffered serious health problems. “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.”
Used in construction, the toxic drywall is said to emit corrosive gases that attack copper tubing, and wiring—damaging air conditioners, and electrical goods, as well as causing health problems.
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.
Four to five months after moving into their new home in December 2006, Willis, his wife Lori, and their two young sons began to experience symptoms that developed into what Willis described as “nightmarish health problems.”
His wife developed a severe sinus infection, which she first thought was a toothache. “Our younger son has had some respiratory issues—runny eyes and nose, itchy, burning eyes—symptoms we’ve all had at different times in the house,” he said in a previous interview.
Hardest hit was their older boy, who was three at the time. He developed a severe cough a few months after they moved into their home, was diagnosed with a sinus infection, and put on oral antibiotics.
When he didn’t improve, he was hospitalized for a week and given intravenous antibiotics. After being home for 10 days, still on IV antibiotics, his sinus infection worsened and he underwent surgery.
“The doctor said they removed something that looked like rubber cement. He said he’d never seen something that looked that bad in a kid so young,” Willis said.
His doctor asked if there was anything in the home that could be aggravating the child’s condition. Willis didn’t suspect the house, which was less than a year old.
One month after moving out of their home into a rental, the family’s symptoms disappeared. He said the last time they went back to the house the odor was overwhelming, and now, the real estate agents won’t even go in the house.
“It was our dream home, but it’s gone,” Willis said.