Chinese Drywall--Homeowner's Headaches and Homebuilder's Legal Problem
Sanjay Nasta


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via Real Estate Dispatch

Chinese Drywall, it smells bad, because it emits sulfurous gases carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and hydrogen sulfide. These emissions, which have the odor of rotten eggs, worsen as temperature and humidity rise.  The problems have been attributed to the use of fly ash in the drywall, which degrades in the presence of heat and moisture; although United States' drywall uses fly ash as well, the process used creates a cleaner final product.|

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has received about 2,276 reports from residents in 32 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. This problem seems to occur mostly in homes that were built in 2006 to 2007, when an unprecedented increase in new construction occurred in part due to the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005--experts estimate about 100,000 homes are affected.

Homeowners have reported respiratory tract infections, sinus problems and nosebleeds.  The CDC is investigating if gases given off by wallboard imported from China can affect the health of homeowners and their families. 

In homes with the defective drywall, copper surfaces such as pipes, wiring, and air conditioner coils corrode, turning black and powdery, a chemical process indicative of reaction with hydrogen sulfide

Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd., part of Knauf Gips KG is the primary company named as a producer of imported Chinese drywall.   From January to September 2006, 52 million pounds of Knauf drywall were unloaded in New Orleans, three-quarters of it from Knauf Tianjin, and at least 37 million pounds of Knauf drywall was shipped directly from China to Florida ports.

Class action lawsuits claiming respiratory problems and headaches have been filed by Florida homeowners against home builders, drywall suppliers, and a Chinese drywall manufacturer,

How do I know if I have Chinese drywall?

Most drywall from China will be labeled on the back of the drywall with “made in China,” however, it is possible that drywall from China may not have any markings. It is also possible that a home could contain both drywall made in the U.S. and drywall made in China. Homes considered to potentially be affected by Chinese drywall would have been built after 2003 and meet two or more of the following:

  • Corrosion: Are any of your home’s copper pipes, plumbing fixtures, or uninsulated electrical wires at light switches or receptacles corroded?Corrosion is indicated by black, sooty coating of un-insulated copper pipe leading to the air conditioning unit  Have your air conditioner evaporator coils failed early? Metal or copper corrosion of these types may mean there is defective drywall in your home. 
  • Odor: Does your home have an odor that smells like rotten eggs, matches, or
  • fireworks? A sulfur odor in the home might mean defective drywall is present.
  • Label: Can you see the back side of your drywall? Some drywall from China is  stamped with “Made in China” on the back. However, some Chinese drywall does not have a label or markings.  You might be able to see the markings by going to your attic and looking at the back of drywall.
  • Outside Expert:  Confirmation by an outside expert or professional of the presence of premature copper corrosion on un-insulated copper wires and/or air conditioner evaporator coils (inside the air conditioning unit)

How can Chinese drywall affect my health?

Some persons are more sensitive than others to possible chemical exposures. An exposure that causes no problems for some people can make other people sick or uncomfortable. Persons most likely to get sick from breathing contaminated air include the elderly, children, and people with asthma, allergies, lung disease, and heart problems.   Reported health symptoms include:

  • irritated and itchy eyes and skin,
  • difficulty breathing,
  • persistent cough,
  • bloody noses,
  • runny noses,
  • recurrent headaches,
  • sinus infection, and
  • asthma   

Very few studies exist of people exposed to low levels (1-100 ppb) of sulfur gases for long periods of time.  Carbonyl sulfide and carbon disulfide exposure may result in eye, nose, and throat irritation and exacerbation of respiratory problems. Less is known about chronic exposure to lower levels (1-30 ppb), such as those found in the limited indoor testing conducted in homes reported to contain imported drywall.   

Short term exposure (hours) to low concentrations of sulfur gas can result in the following symptoms: 

  • eye irritation 
  • sore throat 
  • stuffy nose/ rhinitis 
  • cough 
  • shortness of breath/ chest pain 
  • nausea 
  • headaches 

Chronic exposure (days to weeks) to low concentrations can result in the following additional symptoms: 

  • fatigue 
  • loss of appetite 
  • irritability 
  • poor memory 
 

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