EPA: Sulfur, acids found in drywall

dmarsteller@bradenton.comMay 20, 2009 

MANATEE — Federal scientists have found several distinct differences in Chinese and U.S. drywall samples they analyzed, but they say more testing is needed to determine what the differences mean.

The Chinese samples contained sulfur and two forms of an acid commonly found in acrylic paint while the U.S. samples did not, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a report released Tuesday. The Chinese samples also had higher levels of strontium — a metallic element — than their U.S. counterparts, the EPA said.

But the agency cautioned that it needs to do more testing to determine if the Chinese drywall’s physical characteristics are causing foul odors, corroded metal and health ailments, as homeowners in Florida and a dozen other states allege. That testing should include indoor-air sampling for potential health risks, it said.

“The analysis was conducted to identify the elemental material contained in the drywall samples and is not itself intended to establish a definitive link between the drywall and the conditions being observed in houses,” the report said.

Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., who pushed for the EPA testing, plan to ask Congress again today to set aside $2 million in emergency funding for more in-depth testing and a public-awareness campaign.

“We now know there are three things in there that aren’t in other drywall samples,” Nelson said. “We’ve got the ‘what’ and now we need the ‘why’ and how do we fix it. In the end, I think all this stuff is going to have to be ripped out.”

The EPA’s initial results mirror those previously reported by Florida health officials, who said limited testing by an independent laboratory found higher levels of sulfuric and organic compounds in Chinese drywall.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory in Edison, N.J. tested two samples of Chinese drywall pulled from Florida homes and four domestic samples purchased at nearby stores for the EPA.

Both Chinese samples contained sulfur and propanoic acid, also called propionic acid. A National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration chemical database called the latter a “colorless liquid with a sharp rancid odor” that “produces irritating vapor.”

The scientists also said the foreign drywall contained strontium at levels two to 10 times greater than the domestic ones. Strontium is a soft metal often used in fireworks and flares, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Also, the report said that scientists found “no evidence of fly ash in the Chinese drywall samples.” That is counter to several lawsuits that contend Chinese drywall manufacturers added the ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants, to their product.

The report was released two days before a Senate subcommittee holds the first congressional hearing on the issue. Officials from several state and federal agencies investigating Chinese drywall, as well as a Cape Coral homeowner who has it in his home, are expected to testify.

Also Tuesday, Norfolk, Va., became the first U.S. city to ban the use of Chinese drywall. Contractors must certify they are not using the product or they will not get a building permit, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported on its Web site.

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