Toxic Chinese Drywall: It Stinks in More Ways Than One
February 12, 2009. By Gordon Gibb
Fort Meyers, FL: You've got to be kidding. Drywall, now. Chinese drywall, that was used during the South Florida building boom starting in 2004 and is now making some people sick. Toxic drywall has been found in many homes, and Chinese drywall problems are affecting copper plumbing and air conditioning coils.
Toxic DrywallToothpaste, pet food, toys, tires, infant formula, heparin, and now drywall. When is all this going to end? Can anyone trust anything that is coming from the great, emerging economy in China?
At issue is drywall that was purchased and used in some homes during the boom building years of 2004 and 2005—especially in places like South Florida. When drywall became hard to come by, apparently some was procured and imported from China.
Drywall is drywall, right? How can you go wrong with drywall?
The problem is what it's made with. And Dave Reid, who represents Intuitive Environmental Solutions of Fort Meyers, Florida, has concluded that at least some of the drywall imported from China was manufactured with waste materials from scrubbers on coal-fired power plants. It has been reported that while Chinese drywall meets ASTM standards, the suspicion is that the water used to mix the gypsum was wastewater that contained chemicals, including sulfur.
The chemicals have been found to leech out of the drywall and is not only a hazard to a homeowner's health, it can also play havoc with plumbing—and in South Florida, given the propensity and need for air conditioning, there is a lot of plumbing. The chemicals imbedded in the toxic Chinese drywall leech out as gasses and combine with the moisture on air conditioning coils to create sulphuric acid.
The acid in turn is suspected of weakening, and dissolving solder joints and copper tubing. The result is water leakage, the blackening of copper coils, and ultimately the failure of the system.
Not to mention the smell. Karen Kuenz is a retiree living in a house at The Legends, a subdivision located in south Lee County. She has smelled sulfur in, and around her home "for years," and while the contractor has made various attempts to locate and deal with the problem, it has never been eradicated entirely. There's still one room in her home where the "stinky sulfur is just nasty."
It's not just the smell. Kuenz has experienced coughing, and other ailments, but she could never explain it until now. The suspect now, is the drywall.
Richard Cesta is another homeowner in Lee County, Florida who has had to put up with the smell of sulfur in his condo. His air conditioning coils keep turning black, and he's had to replace them three times within just months. That kind of thing can get costly, running into the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
While drywall that smells like rotten eggs has only come to light in the past few months, it apparently is not a new problem. It has been reported that builders have been quietly settling complaints for the past 3 years.
That timeline fits in with the building boom that was prevalent in the overheated South Florida real estate market of 2004 and 2005, and into 2006. Drywall is normally sourced from US manufacturers, but a drywall shortage apparently left many installers scrambling to find alternative sources, including drywall from China. In some homes the toxic Chinese drywall was used exclusively, while in others it was mixed with drywall produced in the US.
So far, the problem appears to be isolated to South Florida and, in particular, Lee County. One prominent builder, Lennar Homes, has launched an action against the German-based Knauf Group, and its subsidiary Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd. of China. Taishan Gypsum, another drywall manufacturer based in China, has also been implicated.
Lennar is also pursuing a collection of 12 subcontractors for installing substandard Chinese drywall in Lennar homes, allegedly without Lennar's knowledge.
The aforementioned builder has conducted various tests on its homes in South Florida through Environ International, and has found 3 sulfide gasses: carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide and dimethyl sulfide. It has been reported that the more dangerous hydrogen sulfide, which gives off a rotten-egg-like odor, was not found by Environ in air tests, but had been found previously in tests of the toxic Chinese drywall itself.
The Florida Health Department is conducting tests, and results should be known in March. Ironically, the Lieutenant Governor for the state of Florida has reportedly revealed that his home, located in Fort Meyers, was constructed with toxic Chinese drywall.
Some have made the point that after drywall is taped, sanded and sealed, the problem in theory should be mitigated. However, as countless South Florida homeowners have discovered, either the drywall has not been properly and consistently sealed—or the trapped chemicals within are too potent for the sealer, and paint to contain.
A class-action lawsuit was filed late last month in US District court in Fort Meyers.
If you are among the countless residents of newer homes in South Florida who have encountered health problems, or strange odors in your home resulting from the use of Chinese drywall, consult an attorney. You should not be made to put up with toxic drywall, and Chinese drywall problems only serve to heighten serious economic problems already prevalent in South Florida. Property values are dropping as it is. You don’t need to be chased from your home by a bad smell that is not of your doing.
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