During the building boom, between 2001 and 2007, millions of sheets of drywall were imported into the U.S, Canada and Australia. The drywall was cheap, readily available and was the perfect solution to the shortage created by the housing boom and recent disasters in Florida and New Orleans. Unfortunately, the good deal turned sour in a hurry when it was determined the drywall was toxic.
It turns out the drywall, which was manufactured in China, has elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide, sulphur dioxide, and other toxic gases that when exposed to humidity in the air, results in toxic off-gassing. Symptoms from the off-gassing include breathing problems, eye irritation, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, sore throat, bloody nose, and headaches. There have been claims put forth in 9 deaths allegedly caused by the wallboard; however, officials at the Consumer Products Safety Commission have investigated the claims and no links between the toxic building material and the fatalities have been found.
Problems from the imported drywall have been reported in 14 states, and claims have been generated from approximately 100,000 homes (up to 40,000 in Florida alone), with reports arriving from Canada and Australia as well. The majority of the issues are stemming from states in the south east portion of the country, as it is thought that hot temperatures, combined with high humidity, triggers the off-gassing reaction in the drywall. The solution to the problem is not an easy one as all the drywall needs to be removed and any other items in the home that have been contaminated must be removed and destroyed. Further confusing the issue, some homes were built with a combination of toxic and non-toxic drywall and the presence of as few as three sheets of the toxic wallboard can be problematic.
Along with the health issues, the sulfide gas, which has a strong rotten egg smell, also causes damage to appliances and HVAC systems. The gas corrodes any copper or lead in the home and there are reports of blackened or scorched wiring behind wall outlets and corroded evaporator coils on air conditioning units. The toxic emission is also responsible for the premature failure of electrical equipment such as televisions and cable boxes and also leaves black marks on jewelry, mirrors, and silverware. The corrosion of electrical components is also being considered a fire hazard and has caught the attention of fire safety officials.
Extensive repairs are needed to alleviate the problem and with at least 3,000 people across the country filing claims, the courts are trying to sort out who will be responsible for the massive clean-up bill. The sheer number of these claims has resulted in the appointment of a New Orleans based US District Court to preside over the multi-district litigation. While some compensation has been awarded to affected homeowners, a major setback in the proceedings is the fact that civil judgments in U.S. courts can't be enforced in China and some of the manufacturers of the drywall are non-responsive to lawsuits.
Regardless of who will bear the brunt of the repair bill, the fact remains that this is yet another very serious problem in a string of many (Katrina, the recession, the real estate crisis, Gulf oil spill) that homeowners will have to overcome.
If you suspect you may have toxic drywall in your home, more information can be obtained at chinesedrywallcomplaintcenter.com, or by calling the Chinese Drywall Complaint Center @ 866-714-6466.
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