Impact of toxic drywall unknown
By JOSEPH ASCENZI
March 22, 2009
A second housing crisis could be creeping up on California and the Inland Empire, one that involves faulty building materials that were imported into the United States at the start of the decade.
Toxic drywall manufactured in China is suspected of damaging houses and condominiums in Florida and along the East Coast. The substance has allegedly been used in residential construction in all 50 states, said Thomas Martin, president of the Homeowners Consumer Center in Washington, D.C.
Contaminated drywall is suspected of causing illness, including respiratory problems, nosebleeds and headaches, Martin said.
According to Intuitive Environmental Solutions, an environmental consulting and inspection firm in Fort Myers, Fla., specializing in indoor air quality and mold contamination issues, the gypsum material used in some of the imported drywall was initially used as filter media in the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants to reduce air pollution. The gypsum material was used to remove contaminants from the high-sulfur-content coal.
According to Intuitive Environmental Solutions, the used and contaminated gypsum media was then re-used in the manufacturing of drywall and shipped out of the country. Now, under certain indoor environmental conditions, the contaminants imbedded in the imported drywall, in the form of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide and others, migrate from the drywall into the indoor air.
When the sulfur-laden air comes in contact with moisture on air conditioning coils, an acidic solution forms that blackens and deteriorates the coil components. The copper tubing and joint solder then fail and release the refrigerant, and the coils have to be replaced. In addition, copper wiring, piping and copper associated with refrigerators inside some homes are corroding along with mirrors, jewelry, and faucets and drains.
Toxic drywall has been identified in houses in Northern California, and tests are being conducted in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The Inland region is considered particularly vulnerable because it helped lead the state's housing boom that started to fizzle at the end of 2007 with the onset of the mortgage crisis.
Between 200,000 and 300,000 residences could be impacted nationwide, Martin said.
Anyone who owns a house built in the Inland region between 2003 and 2007 could have a problem with contaminated drywall, according to the consumer center.
"California ultimately will eclipse Florida on this thing," Martin said. "It will be the mother lode. You could end up with a lot of houses that have to be bulldozed."
Florida's humidity could be causing problems associated with toxic drywall to happen in that state first, Martin said.
The consumer center is part of Americas Watchdog, a privately owned consumer-rights group in Washington, D.C.
As of March 10, six class-action lawsuits had been filed in Florida on behalf of more than 2,000 homeowners in that state who claim their homes are eroding because of contaminated drywall.
The consumer center helped provide information for one of those lawsuits, which names Miami-based Lennar Corp., one of the largest homebuilders in the United States and California, as a defendant.
Lennar Corp. in turn has filed suit against several U.S. drywall manufacturers, which reportedly had drywall made in China and then shipped it into the United States.
Officials with Lennar Corp. declined to comment.
Lawsuits stemming from contaminated drywall in California are pending, Martin said.
Any house or condominium built or remodeled after 2000 could have sheets of contaminated drywall within its structure, according to the consumer center.
A house built with toxic drywall can emit a smell similar to rotten eggs. Electrical wiring turns black and corrodes, and air conditioning units fail often.
Also, soot can seep from the drywall and attach to jewelry and silver utensils.
"This is probably the worst environmental/housing disaster ever in the United States," said Martin, who lost a home in Hurricane Katrina. "It's a disaster, and it couldn't come at a worse time."
Consumer center officials believe the toxic drywall entered the country at the ports of Long Beach, Oakland and Seattle/Tacoma starting in 2001 and that homebuilders and contractors began using it a year or so later.
"It was their responsibility to know what was in the (drywall) they were using," Martin said.
Southern California, and particularly the Inland Empire, could scarcely handle another housing disaster on top of the current mortgage crisis, said David Brenner, president of Prime Builders, a full-service contractor in Riverside.
"I haven't heard anything about it but I will certainly be on the lookout for it," Brenner said.
Environmental laws that make it difficult to manufacture in the United States might be partly responsible for the problem, Brenner said.
"I have a hard time believing anyone would bring drywall in from outside of the country because it's so heavy," Brenner said. "Usually you don't move it more than 200 miles from where you're going to use it because it's so heavy. I don't use much drywall so I'm probably safe, but this still scares me. California can't afford another housing crisis. A lot of people could get hurt."
Contaminated drywall could have a huge impact in the Inland region because of the number of houses that were built there during the state's housing boom, said Frank Williams, chief executive officer of the Baldy View chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California.
"If a lot of that material was used in construction it could be a huge problem," Williams said. "There was a problem with mold in houses that started on the East Coast, and I'm afraid this could be as bad."
By law, homebuilders are responsible for most construction defects in a house during the first 10 years after construction, Williams said.
Mark Knorringa, chief executive officer of the association's Riverside County chapter, said he was not familiar with the issue.
The toxic-drywall problem began to surface in Florida during the fourth quarter of last year and has since spread to other parts of the country, said Jeremy Alters, a Miami attorney who helped file one of the class-action lawsuits in Florida.
"We have a glut of houses now that are defective, and no one is doing anything about it," he said. "We think the humidity accelerated the process in Florida, but we expect to start seeing the problem everywhere."
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.
Toothpaste, 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.