U.S. Lawmakers Seek Ban on Tainted Chinese Drywall

April 10, 2009

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D.-Fla., and Mary Landrieu, D.-La., have filed legislation for a recall and immediate ban on tainted building products from China, as more and more people around the country are reporting problems in their homes built with imported drywall.

The legislation presses the Consumer Product Safety Commission ( CPSC ) for a recall on Chinese-made drywall, based in part on findings by a Florida homebuilder and state officials who have confirmed the presence of sulfide gases in homes built with the drywall.

Congressman Robert Wexler, D.-Fla., has filed similar legislation in the House. In addition, Wexler has urged Florida Governor Charlie Crist to declare a state of emergency in Florida over the product. This would allow homeowners to apply for federal loans to help repair their homes.

Nelson and Landrieu’s legislation also asks the CPSC to work with federal testing labs and the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the level of hazard posed by certain chemicals and as yet unidentified organic compounds in the drywall.

In addition, the legislation calls on the commission to issue an interim ban on imports until it can create federal drywall safety standards so consumers are protected in the future.

Among other things, the drywall is linked to seeping sulfide gases that can corrode electrical wiring and components of air-conditioning and other household appliances.

The two lawmakers said they’re hoping to jump-start a process for helping affected homeowners with the costs of repairs or replacement, which under their legislation would be the responsibility of the manufacturers.

The potential scope of the problem is big. Officials believe between 60,000 and 100,000 homes nationwide may contain tainted drywall. Nelson represents Florida, where an estimated 36,000 homes are believed to contain Chinese-made drywall. Landrieu represents Louisiana, where tons of the drywall was used in post-Hurricane Katrina construction. Besides Florida and Louisiana, problems also have been seen and reported in the press in Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and California.

Nelson noted that during a recent three-to five-year period drywall from China arrived at ports around the country, including 60 million pounds in New Orleans and 27 million pounds in Mississippi – two areas hard hit by Hurricane Katrina.

“I believe you’re going to see this is widespread,” said Nelson, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees the CPSC. “Anytime you have mounting evidence of potentially toxic goods you have an obligation to act quickly to protect consumers.”

On Feb. 13, Nelson wrote the CPSC and requested a federal investigation into the imported drywall. The CPSC launched an investigation two weeks later. Last week, a team of federal investigators was in southwest Florida inspecting the electrical systems of suspect homes.

A number of homeowners have filed lawsuits, and developers are suing the manufacturers of the drywall. Homeowner lawsuits contend the drywall has caused damage to the home, that the drywall itself must be replaced and, in some cases, that residents have suffered adverse health effects such as asthma as a result of exposure.

In the past, there has been at least one case involving widespread replacement of siding in numerous homes around the country. The siding, a concoction of wood scraps and resins, was installed on about 800,000 homes around the country from 1985 to 1995. It warped prematurely, rotted in wet weather and sprouted mushrooms and other fungus. The first complaints arose out of the use of the wood panels on roofs of houses in Florida.

About 67,000 homeowners lodged complaints and eventually the manufacturer paid 37,781 homeowners an average of $4,367 or a total of $165 million.

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