Normally, when a contractor builds a home in the U.S., they acquire drywall from a native source. However, from 2004 to 2007 the housing market not only thrived but exploded, creating a shortage in drywall.
This prompted the use of drywall imported from China. Sometimes referred to as contaminated drywall or tainted drywall, Chinese drywall has been contaminated with waste materials.
States Affected by Chinese Drywall
Florida appears to have been hit the hardest. Florida’s high humidity causes the Chinese drywall to smell like sulfur or rotten eggs. The fumes from the drywall cause damage to surrounding structures and are the basis for many health-related problems.
The housing boom and shortage of U.S. manufactured drywall cannot fully explain why Chinese drywall was imported. Houses built as early as 2001 have been found to contain Chinese drywall, three full years before the increase in the housing market. In addition to Florida, Chinese drywall has been found in 29 other states including North Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana.
Facts and Figures
It is estimated that more than 100,000 U.S. homes have Chinese drywall within their structures. In 2006 and January through February 2007, according to shipping records, enough Chinese drywall was imported into the United States during those 14 months for a minimum of 50,000 homes.
The drywall fumes cause copper and other metals to corrode and oxidize. The corrosion of metals interferes with home air conditioning and heating, internal electrical wiring, plumbing, common household appliances, and electronics. There is a risk of fire associated with the deterioration of wiring within smoke detection systems, and the Chinese drywall is very brittle. When removed from an environment, microscopic pieces of the drywall are loosened into the air and find their way into lungs, similar to asbestos materials.
Some of the health problems related to Chinese drywall are respiratory problems, typically bleeding noses, irritated sinuses and eyes, dry throat, incessant coughing, an onset of asthma, and sleep apnea.
Signs of the Presence of Chinese Drywall
General signs and symptoms of a home that contains Chinese drywall include a rotten egg, sulfur, or melting plastic smell, air conditioning units and furnace coils corroding, corrosion of pipes, personal jewelry and even guitar strings. If lights flicker on and off for no apparent reason, if a circuit breaker needs reset often and for no apparent reason, if sparks appear anywhere along the home’s electrical system, or if there is a buzzing sound, the home may contain Chinese drywall.
Chinese Drywall Lawsuits
Several class action lawsuits are currently underway concerning Chinese drywall, though spokespeople from China wish to make it known that not all drywall from their country is tainted with said waste materials. Many state health departments are looking into the situation to determine whether there is an actual health risk with the drywall. The U.S. EPA in May of 2009 determined that the imported drywall in question does contain among other substances sulfides, formaldehyde, various metals, and water soluble chlorides.
- Chinesedrywall.com at http://www.chinesedrywall.com/. Accessed 12/25/09
- “Chinese-made drywall ruining homes, owners say,” CNN.Com at http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/03/18/chinese.drywall/index.html, March 18, 2009. Accessed December 26, 2009
Additional Threats and Concerns
In an economic climate all ready in recession where the housing market has almost completely bottomed out, other threats and concerns with Chinese drywall center around the pocket book.
Many homeowners affected by the Chinese drywall are in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings. Life savings have been depleted in hopes of repairing the homes and appliances. After becoming sick, they leave the homes and then have to pay out not only the mortgage on the house with the Chinese drywall but also whatever rent they have to pay for their back-up living quarters.
Homeowners have a real fear of bankruptcy and foreclosure.
Most statements to the media from banks suggest homeowners can request forbearance solutions or the homes can be placed in a nonaccrual state where monthly mortgage payments do not need to be paid. Most forbearance solutions typically last three months or so, then the account must be reexamined. Banks such as the Citizens National have, in the past, reported home owners to the credit bureaus when a mortgage is in a nonaccrual state though, and have even sent inspectors to the properties in question.
The problems associated with Chinese drywall have also affected the real estate market.
“Buyers are scared. They’ve heard about it, but nobody knows where all these homes really are, so it’s leaving a question in people’s minds: Is this one of the homes?” said Keller Williams real estate agent Kathy Marlowe of Lakewood Ranch, Florida.
- Kessler, Aaron. “Chinese drywall burdens market: Uncertainty is making some buyers nervous, agents say,” Herald Tribune.com athttp://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20090313/ARTICLE/903130286/0/BLOG8 402, Friday march 13, 2009. Accessed December 28, 2009
Chinese Drywall Issues
Organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) do not confirm the existence of health problems connected with Chinese drywall. The CDC, however, states on that the CPSC “has received about 2,702 reports from residents in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico who believe their health symptoms or the corrosion of certain metal components in their homes are related to the presence of drywall produced in China.”
The CDC has discovered emissions from the Chinese drywall to contain carbonyl sulfide and carbon disulfide gases, albeit in small amounts and only in “some samples obtained through limited testing.”
Eye irritations, sore throat, stuffy nose, a persistent cough, shortness of breath or chest pain, general nausea, and headaches can all be attributed to a few hours of exposure to these sulfur gases found in the Chinese drywall. If exposed to these sulfur gases for anywhere from a few days to several weeks, health issues may arise including fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, poor memory, dizziness, insomnia, and headaches.
The best advice the CDC seems to offer for those who have the affected drywall in their homes is to avoid intensive exercise in the home, and to go outside for fresh air.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Drywall Information Center at http://www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall/index.html. Accessed December 27, 2009.
- “CPSC Releases 2nd Chines Drywall Report; Corrosion Link Cited,” The PopTort.com at www.thepoptort.com/chinese-drywall/, Novemeber 24, 2009. Accessed December 27, 2009.
- “Imported Drywall and Health—A Guide for Healthcare Providers,” CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/drywall/docs/Drywall_for_Healthcare_Providers.pdf, September 2009. Accessed December 27, 2009.
- Ross, Allison. “‘D Day for Chinese drywall’ brings little new information,” The Palm Beach Post News at http://www.palmbeachpost.com/pbcsouth/content/business/epaper/2009/10/29/10 29drywalltestresults.html, Thursday October 29, 2009. Accessed December 27, 2009.Chinese Drywall Lawsuits
Chinese Drywall Lawsuits
Fifteen thousand Florida residents have filed a lawsuit, claiming that their home or residence contains the Chinese drywall that is currently blamed for causing a variety of concerns ranging from electrical wiring going bad to health-related issues. To date, there are currently more than 150 lawsuits in Florida alone concerning Chinese drywall in one way or another.
The largest lawsuit targets Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., Ltd. The deadline for filing a class action case against Knauf within this major case was December 2, 2009. Those who missed the deadline but still wish to seek compensation will fall underneath the Hague Convention for the Service of Process Abroad rulings, which calls for plaintiffs to pay $15,000 per lawsuit.
Besides the structural integrity concerns associated with Chinese drywall, there are many suspected health-related issues prompting the filing of lawsuits.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the most frequently reported symptoms associated with Chinese drywall include irritated and itchy eyes and skin, difficulty breathing, persistent cough, bloody nose, runny nose, recurrent headaches, sinus infection, and asthma attacks.
Issues Prompting Lawsuits
Nancy Nelson, a Palmetto, Florida home-owner expressed her complaints to local Tampa, Florida television station, WPLG-TV, noting that her washing machine, dryer, microwave, and refrigerator, all brand-new appliances, are breaking down.
Country-wide, the estimated cost to repair U.S. homes affected by Chinese drywall could cost approximately 8 billion dollars.
The health issues related to the tainted drywall are a bit more elusive for the lawsuits in question. There has not been a confirmed health problem case linked directly to the drywall. If the CDC discovers a real, scientific cause link between the drywall and the reported health problems, lawsuits could sky-rocket.
The sheer economic component involved, the now worthlessness of the homes in question, the health concern, the litigation and insurance costs all contribute to lawsuits related to Chinese drywall.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Drywall Information Center at https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-education-centers/drywall-information-center/interagency-drywall-investigation. Accessed December 27, 2009.
- “CPSC Releases 2nd Chinese Drywall Report; Corrosion Link Cited,” The PopTort.com at www.thepoptort.com/chinese-drywall/, November 24, 2009. Accessed December 27, 2009
- Moran, Kate. “Chinese drywall lawsuits to be consolidated in federal court in New Orleans,” The Times-Picayune. Nola.com: New Orleans Metro Real-Time News: Breaking Local News from New Orleans, Louisiana at http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/06/chinese_drywall_lawsuits_to_b… ml, June 15, 2009. Accessed December 27, 2009.
- Hanna, Jason. “Chinese-made drywall ruining homes, owners say,” CNN.com/US at http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/03/18/chinese.drywall/index.html?TB_iframe=true&height=500&width=750. Accessed December 27, 2009
Signs of Defective Drywall
No definite test can be done to determine whether a home contains tainted Chinese drywall. There are no rigorous assessment programs or guidelines to follow to figure out whether a home contains the Chinese drywall.
However, there are several distinct signs that may point to the problem.
The first sign is a strong odor of what’s described by many as rotten eggs, or sulfur. Sometimes, the smell can get so bad that the homes must be evacuated.
Another sign of defective drywall are frequent repairs to air conditioning units. The AC’s evaporator coils normally last well over a ten year period; however, the fumes from the Chinese drywall can corrode the coils. Watch for other household appliances to begin to fail as well—such as microwaves, refrigerators, ovens, and computers. Guitar strings, jewelry, and silverware will tarnish quickly. Mirrors and copper fittings will turn black.
Of course, there are the health issues as well, but these signs can be more difficult to detect or link to the defective drywall. Eye irritation, breathing problems, headaches can all be contributed to allergies or even the common cold.
If the health symptoms occur in conjunction with the appliance and hardware failure, chances are excellent that the home may contain Chinese drywall. The thickness of the drywall sheets can sometimes help in determining whether the home has the tainted drywall. Lori A. Striet, Ph.D., from Unified Engineering stated that most Chinese drywall is at a half inch thick, but some of the tainted drywall can also be at five-eighths. Some of the drywall is also simply labeled “Made in China,” but not all drywall from China is contaminated.
Top Eight Signs of Chinese drywall:
- Reoccurring air-conditioning failures.
- Corroded electrical wiring. Corrosion in electrical sockets as well.
- Corroded plumbing.
- Metal jewelry, mirrors, and silverware turn black.
- Appliance failure.
- A rotten egg like or sulfur smell.
- Rust on galvanized metal.
- Health problems, especially respiratory related.