Concern about drywall grows

jklipa@bradenton.comJanuary 16, 2009 

MANATEE — A growing number of homeowners worry that they, too, could have foul-smelling Chinese drywall in their homes.

The building material has been linked to corrosion of mechanical and electrical systems and has raised health concerns.

State officials have compiled a list of about 30 complaints from around the state, including six at Montauk Point Crossing at Heritage Harbour and one on Skip Jack Loop in Lakewood Ranch.

John Barnott, Manatee County building director, said that anyone who suspects they have a problem with Chinese drywall, should first contact their builder.

If they don’t get a satisfactory answer, then they can bring their concerns to the county building department at 749-3047 or 749-3078, he said.

Barnott said he would not hesitate to get the builder’s attention, should they be nonresponsive to their customer.

“They have to do business with me every day,” Barnott said.

Lennar Homes approached Barnott’s office with the Chinese drywall problem last fall.

Lennar officials presented a plan to relocate affected residents to other homes or temporary lodging, in order to tear out and replace the bad drywall, Barnott said.

Once the drywall is removed, Barnott said he plans to send in a county inspector to check for structural integrity, and to inspect the wiring and plumbing systems before replacement drywall is installed.

Thursday, Lennar employees were observed going door to door at Montauk Point Crossing, meeting with residents about problems with their homes. Some residents had been relocated to another place to live. Others were still living in the homes, deciding what to do next.

One resident, who asked not to be identified, had problems with the air-conditioning about four times. Belt buckles, mirrors, picture frames and jewelry became tarnished in the home.

Susan Smith, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, said that the state is still receiving reports from residents. Of the 30 complaints to the state health department, less than two percent of the calls concern health problems. The cause for the symptoms have not been determined by the health department, which has not conducted any testing. Testing has primarily been done by private companies, she said. The state is talking with builders and homeowners about the issue.

“At this time, we are still in open dialogue as to what steps we may take in the future,” she said.

The Chinese drywall blamed for the damage to homes and the health problems was imported into the United States at Port Manatee in the late 1990s and again from 2004 to 2006, said Robert Kraus, president of Kraus Group Inc - Inspection Services and the southwest chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Problems with the drywall were unforeseen when it was first installed in the new homes, which typically smell of formaldehyde from the carpet and glue in the furniture, he said.

“A lot of people knew that the product was there, but nobody knew that was a problem,” he said.

Kraus doesn’t believe that builders knowingly used a product that would cause health problems or damage the home.

Triggered by moisture, the drywall emits an odor that smells like firecrackers, he said. Replacing the drywall alone may not correct the problem if other damage has been done to the electrical outlets.

“It’s like spraying perfume on it,” he said. “The problem is still there.”

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