Chinese Drywall Problems Prompt Call for Federal Probe

A U.S. Senator has asked federal regulators to take a look at Florida’s problems with defective Chinese drywall.  According to the Palm Beach Post, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, wants both the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine whether drywall imported from China is toxic.

As we’ve been reporting, owners of newer homes in South Florida have been complaining of drywall that smells like rotten eggs. In many cases, residents have had to leave their home because the smell was so bad.  In addition to the putrid smell, many South Florida homeowners have reported problems with air conditioning and other systems that are likely related to the defective Chinese drywall.  Some spent hundreds – even thousands of dollars – to have air conditioning, pipes and wiring repaired.

According to a report on BradentonHerald.com earlier this week, the Florida Health Department has so far received 86 complaints regarding defective Chinese drywall.  The complaints come from 14 counties, including Manatee, Sarasota, Lee, St. Lucie, Pinellas, Collier, Dade, Citrus, Lake, Hillsborough, Highlands, Palm Beach and Broward, the Web site said.

Usually, drywall is manufactured in the United States, but a shortage between 2004 and 2006 prompted many builders to buy drywall from China.  Most of the reported problems stem from drywall imported from China during Florida’s construction boom years of 2004-2005.  Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd. of China, a  subsidiary of German-based manufacturer Knauf Group, is the company at the focus of Florida’s drywall problems.

Last month, Lennar Homes, one of the builders who has acknowledged using the Chinese drywall in Florida, said air quality tests it commissioned found that the material was emitting three sulfide gases that were likely causing the smell and corrosion problems – carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide and dimethyl sulfide.  Hydrogen sulfide, a particularly dangerous compound with a characteristic rotten-eggs smell, was not found in Lennar’s air tests, but it was found in previous testing that the company conducted on the Chinese drywall itself.

The Florida Health Department is conducting its own tests, and results from those should be available next month.

Now, some are indicating that problems with Chinese drywall might extend beyond Florida.  The head of one consumer advocacy group told BradentonHerald.com that it has received drywall complaints from homeowners in Michigan, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Maryland, North and South Carolina, New York and New Jersey.  Given the amount of Chinese drywall that has been imported to the U.S. since 2004, the group estimates that the problem could affect as many as 10,000 Florida homes, and thousands more nationwide, BradentonHerald.com said.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Sen. Nelson wants the CPSC and EPA to look into the drywall problems to get “a clear picture of everyone who might be affected.”  Nelson also wants the CPSC to develop drywall standards so that problems like those reported can be avoided in the future, the Post said.

The drywall problems have sparked a number of lawsuits, including a class action complaint filed by, the Bonita Springs law firm of Parker Waichman Alonso LLP.  The lawsuit, which was filed late last month in U.S. District court in Fort Myers, charges that Knauf and other defendants negligently manufactured and sold the defective drywall, which was “unreasonably dangerous” in normal use because it caused corrosion to air-conditioning and electrical components, and caused coughing and irritation of sinuses, eyes and throats. It goes on to state that, “when combined with moisture in the air, these sulfur compounds create sulfuric acid.”

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