Tainted drywall shows up in Katrina homes

Associated PressApril 13, 2009 

CHALMETTE, La. — Thomas Stone and his wife rebuilt after their home was flooded by six feet of water during Hurricane Katrina, never dreaming they would face the agony of tearing it apart all over again.

They tapped Lauren Stone’s 401(k) retirement savings and saved $1,000 by installing Chinese-made drywall throughout their two-story home. Now the Stones are among hundreds of Katrina victims facing another, this time unnatural, disaster.

Sulfur-emitting wallboard from China is wreaking havoc in homes, charring electrical wires, eating away at jewelry, silverware and other valuables, and possibly even sickening families.

“The bathroom upstairs has a corroded shower-head, the door hinges are rusting out,” said 50-year-old Thomas Stone, the longtime fire chief of St. Bernard Parish, outside New Orleans. And then there’s the stench, like rotten eggs, that seems to get worse with the heat and humidity.

“It makes me wish there would be another flood to wash it out,” said his wife Lauren, 49.

Florida has also fallen victim to the tainted drywall, inlcluding here in Manatee County.

The Bradenton Herald has reported that residents in five Manatee neighborhoods — Crystal Lakes, Fairways at Imperial Lakewoods, Heritage Harbour, Greyhawk Landing and Greenbrook Village in Lakewood Ranch — have reported they suspect defective Chinese drywall has caused foul odors and/or corroded metal air-conditioning parts, silverware and metal jewelry in their homes. Defective drywall also recently was confirmed in a Waterlefe Golf & Country Club home, Michael Foreman, owner of Foreman & Associates, a Sarasota consulting firm that has been testing homes, earlier told the Herald.

The state has received more than 150 drywall-related complaints from 19 counties, including 27 from Manatee, she said. The agency also has set up a Web site — www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/community/indoor-air/drywall.html — devoted to the issue. Chinese manufacturers flooded the U.S. market with more than 500 million pounds of drywall around the same time Katrina was flooding New Orleans, an Associated Press review of shipping records has found.

The boom in imported China-made building materials peaked in 2006, driven by domestic shortages created by the nationwide construction boom, as well as a series of Gulf Coast hurricanes.

That year, enough wallboard was imported from China to build some 34,000 homes of roughly 2,000 square feet each, according to the AP’s analysis and estimates supplied by the nationwide drywall supplier United States Gypsum. But experts and advocates say many homes may have been built with a mixture of Chinese and domestic drywall — which could push the number of affected homes to 100,000 or more, by some estimates.

The drywall apparently causes a chemical reaction that gives off the rotten-egg stench and corrodes metal. Researchers do not know yet what causes it, but possible culprits include fumigants sprayed on the drywall and material inside it. The Chinese drywall is also made with a coal byproduct called fly ash that is less refined than the form used by U.S. drywall makers.

The Chinese ministries of commerce, construction and industry and the Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the AP, although Chinese media have reported that AQSIQ, which enforces product quality standards, was investigating.

The U.S. Product Consumer Safety Commission and a number of states are investigating the extent of the problem, what’s causing it, and whether it poses serious health risks. But it could be years before the full extent of the problem is known.

Herald staff writer Brian Neill contributed to this report.

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