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Senators seek Chinese drywall recall

MANATEE — The federal government should order a recall of potentially defective Chinese drywall and ban its importation until safety standards are established, two U.S. senators said Monday.

Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., filed a nonbinding resolution Monday urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue the recall. The senators also filed a bill that would require the consumer agency to do a more thorough drywall investigation and consider establishing product-safety standards for drywall.

“This Chinese drywall represents an attack on our homeowners, a defrauding of our homebuilders and another obstacle on our road to recovery,” Landrieu said. “The Consumer Product Safety Commission should have been the first line of defense in preventing this inferior product from entering the U.S. market in the first place.”

Homeowners in Manatee County, across Florida and in at least three other states have complained that Chinese-made drywall in their homes has emitted a “rotten eggs” odor, corroded metal jewelry and air-conditioning parts, and caused headaches, breathing difficulty and other health problems. Those complaints have prompted several lawsuits, as well as state and federal investigations.

The majority of complaints are about homes built during the 2004-07 building boom, when domestic drywall was in short supply and Chinese drywall imports surged. Nelson and Landrieu said as many as 100,000 U.S. homes, including 36,000 in Florida and an untold number built in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, could contain the product.

“I believe you’re going to see this is widespread,” Nelson said. “Any time you have mounting evidence of potentially toxic goods, you have an obligation to act quickly to protect consumers.”

Their bill would require the CPSC to determine whether product-safety standards are needed for drywall, and ban as defective any drywall with at least 5 percent organic compounds by weight. Limited testing of Chinese drywall samples from Florida homes found they contained as much as 15 percent organic matter and emitted hydrogen sulfide gas when subjected to heat and moisture.

“There are no mandatory product-safety standards for drywall right now,” said Chris Day, Nelson’s legislative counsel. “There’s nothing out there.”

The bill also would order the CPSC, which recently sent a team of scientists to several Southwest Florida homes, to conduct more extensive testing of Chinese drywall than it has done.

The commission would be required to test 10 or more Chinese-drywall samples — including at least one each from homes in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia — to determine their chemical and organic makeup, and their potential health and environmental effects.

“We’re looking for a fuller investigation,” Day said. “We’d like it to be a true, formal, record-based investigation than what they’re doing now.”

The resolution also calls for the commission to launch a formal investigation, issue a recall and ban of defective Chinese drywall, and seek civil penalties against Chinese companies and their U.S. subsidies that manufactured, imported and distributed hazardous drywall.

It also urges the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development secretaries to use their authority to force manufacturers and suppliers to pay for fixing the problem and develop tax incentives to help defray homeowners’ costs.

The CPSC’s public-affairs office did not return telephone calls seeking comment Monday. A U.S. spokeswoman for Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, a Chinese drywall manufacturer at the center of the controversy, said the company imported drywall into the United States in 2006 only and has not since.

Day said Nelson hopes to get the bill heard soon by the Senate Commerce Committee, which Nelson sits on and oversees the CPSC. The bill and resolution are a prelude to potentially more congressional action, Day said.

“We hope to have committee hearings and investigations and whatever else we need to do, now that the ball is rolling,” he said.

Also on Monday, a federal class-action lawsuit was filed in Miami on behalf of homeowners in Homestead. It is at least the fifth such lawsuit filed in Florida.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.