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Senators pushing for more drywall testing, awareness

Two U.S. senators on Wednesday again pushed for $2 million in additional emergency funding to pay for further investigation of Chinese drywall and to mount a public awareness campaign.

Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., introduced resolutions calling for the money the day after U.S. Environmental Protection Agency test results were released. The drywall is suspected of causing odor and corrosion problems as well as health ailments for residents in tens of thousands of homes across the southern U.S., including Florida and Louisiana, Nelson said Wednesday.

“People in these houses where the Chinese wallboard were put up are getting sick, respiratory problems, their silver is turning black and the copper coils on their air-conditioners are not only turning black-colored, instead of what copper normally does, which is green,” said Nelson, who pushed for the EPA test with Landrieu. “There are houses in Florida that I have been in that have in fact replaced their air-conditioning coils three times.”

Federal scientists found several distinct differences in Chinese and U.S. drywall samples they analyzed. The Chinese samples contained sulfur and two forms of an acid commonly found in acrylic paint while the U.S. samples did not, the EPA 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.

The EPA has said it wants to do more testing to determine if the Chinese drywall’s physical characteristics are causing foul odors, corroded metal and health ailments as homeowners allege.

So far, Nelson said he estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 American homes have been affected. In Florida, 36,000 to 50,000 homes are suspected of having drywall problems.

“Their doctors are telling them to vacate their houses,” said Nelson, who has visited some of those homes which he said smell like rotten eggs.

In one Bradenton home, Nelson said, a woman who lived there went on a cruise, brought home a silver bracelet and a month later it was corroded.

Fault lies neither with the homeowner nor the builder, Nelson said Wednesday.

“They thought they were buying good product,” he said.

He called for authorities to ban the imports, do more testing and ultimately go in and impound the material.

“They need to go to the next step of testing which is to put it in a confined area and subject it to the conditions that are in our states, which is heat and humidity and test what is baking off that could be the result of these respiratory problems,” he said.

But the Consumer Product Safety Commission doesn’t have enough funding to continue testing, Nelson said.

So the senators are asking for $2 million, of which $1.5 million would go to future testing. The remaining dollars would go towards an awareness campaign and coordination with the EPA.

“This is an enormous problem,” Nelson said.

— Staff writer Duane Marsteller contributed to this report.

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