Habitat for Humanity Used, Distributed Chinese Drywall in New Orleans Following Hurricane Katrina

Chinese drywall was apparently used in more than 600 New Orleans homes built by nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity, following Hurricane Katrina. That tally includes about half of the 72 single-family homes and five duplexes in the “Musician’s Village,” one of Habitat’s most successful post-Katrina rebuilding projects.

Hurricane Katrina was a major factor in the development of the Chinese drywall crisis. The massive rebuilding that followed the 2005 storm, along with the housing boom that was in full swing at the time, helped create the shortage of U.S.-produced drywall that led to the large-scale importation of Chinese wallboard. Of the 2,702 Chinese drywall complaints made to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 500 originated with Louisiana homeowners. Many of the homes in the state rebuilt after Katrina, especially in and around New Orleans, contain Chinese drywall.

According to a report on HeraldTribune.com, Habitat for Humanity and charities it supplied built as many as 600 homes using wallboard made by Taishan Gypsum Co., a company controlled by the Chinese government. In fact, starting in early 2007, a stockpile of Taishan drywall – 120,000 sheets – became Habitat’s main source of wallboard, and the organization even continued using the Taishan product until last month. It only stopped after it received a form letter from the CPSC in November stating that Chinese drywall not be moved or sold without prior notification to the federal government.

Taishan has been accused of being a major culprit in the Chinese drywall disaster. In fact, lawsuits against Taishan will be among the first to go to trial next month in the Chinese drywall multidistrict litigation currently underway in federal court in New Orleans. Earlier this year, the judge overseeing that litigation issued a default judgment against Taishan for failing to respond to lawsuits.

Officials with Habitat in New Orleans insist that the Taishan drywall it used has not caused any problems, and told HeraldTribune.com that tests it conducted in March proved the wallboard did not contain any of the sulfur compounds linked to corrosion and other problems. But according to the HeraldTribune.com report, Habitat only tested a few indoor air samples, not the actual drywall, to reach that conclusion. The CPSC and other government agencies investigating the drywall problems have already said that such tests likely won’t detect tainted wallboard.

A New Orleans Habitat official told HeraldTribune.com that the organization has only received 2 complaints about drywall problems, but neither checked out. One home was built too early, and did not contain Taishan drywall, while the other did not have corrosion problems. The official said that if the Taishan drywall was causing problems in homes, “we think we would have heard something from our families by now.” Unfortunately, it is well known that corrosion, odors and other problems with Chinese drywall often don’t show up until 12 to 24, so its really too early to say that all homes built with Habitat’s Taishan drywall are safe.

Despite the fact that it stopped using the Taishan drywall, Habitat officials in New Orleans still maintain the organization’s stockpile was safe. According to HeraldTribune.com, Habitat has not conducted any targeted inspections of the homes it built to look for corrosion, and has no contingency plan in place should any corrosion problems surface.

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