Hurricane Katrina Survivors Now Victims of Chinese Drywall

Chinese drywall has turned up in homes that were rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina. According to the Associated Press, problems with Chinese drywall are forcing people in Mississippi and Louisiana to gut homes they only recently rebuilt.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the factors that prompted the importation of Chinese drywall. Usually, drywall is manufactured in the U.S., but the rebuilding necessitated by the devastating 2006 hurricane season, and housing boom that was occurring at the same time, prompted many builders to buy drywall from China. At least one Katrina homeowner told the Associated Press that cheaper prices for Chinese-made drywall also encouraged its use during that time.

Chinese drywall has been linked to serious problems in homes across the country. In Florida – ground zero for drywall complaints – the health department has received over 150 complaints of Chinese drywall that emits sulfur fumes that emit a “rotten eggs” odor and causes metals, such as air conditioning coils, to corrode. The fumes have also been associated with respiratory and sinus problems in some residents. In some homes, the drywall problems have been so severe that families have had to move, and some builders have begun gutting and replacing drywall in the buildings.

Enough Chinese drywall to build 34,000 homes entered the U.S. in the year after Katrina hit, the Associated Press said. But the drywall could have made it into as many as 100,000 homes, because it was often used in combination with U.S.-made material.

The Chinese drywall appears to be causing the most problems in the south, where warm, humid air encourages the emission of sulfur fumes. It is not yet known why the drywall is emitting these fumes, but according to the Associated Press, possible culprits include fumigants sprayed on the drywall and material inside it. The Chinese drywall is also made with fly ash, a waste product from coal burning, that is less refined than the form used by U.S. drywall makers, the Associated Press said.

While Florida was the first state to field complaints, the drywall is also known to be causing problems in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Virginia. Many of the affected homes in Louisiana and Mississippi are Katrina rebuilds. In Louisiana alone, 350 people have reported drywall problems in their homes. The governor of the state has joined in the call for a federal investigation.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) is in Florida testing homes with Chinese drywall. But despite calls from several quarters to do so, the commission has so far refused to order the drywall recalled. Many have likened the government’s slow response to the drywall to its delayed response to Hurricane Katrina.

Faced with homes that have become unlivable, many owners of homes with Chinese drywall have joined class action lawsuits. One of the first was filed in January by the Florida law firm of <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP. Hundreds of people from Florida to Texas have joined similar suits.

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