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Air testing begins in drywall probe

MANATEE — Federal environmental officials have begun testing the air inside Florida homes containing Chinese-made drywall, and state health officials plan to do the same next week.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it is doing air sampling and monitoring in six houses, three each in Florida and Louisiana. Two in each state contain Chinese drywall, and one in each state has domestic drywall.

“The tests will measure the various gases potentially associated with emissions from Chinese drywall to help refine a federal and state testing protocol,” EPA said in a statement.

The agency declined to say where the testing is being done, but the Fort Myers News-Press reported that two — one with Chinese drywall and one with U.S.-made drywall — are in Sarasota. The third is in Cape Coral, the newspaper reported.

The Florida Department of Health plans to conduct similar tests in Broward County next week, spokesman Doc Kokol said.

The air sampling follows earlier tests that showed sulfur in Chinese drywall samples but not in samples of U.S. drywall. EPA and state health officials also found higher levels of strontium, a metallic element, in the Chinese samples.

Officials are conducting further tests to see if those differences are responsible for homeowner complaints in Florida and at lease a dozen other states of “rotten eggs” odors, corroded electrical wiring and air-conditioning coils, and various respiratory ailments that are blamed on Chinese drywall.

So far, more than 420 Florida homeowners — including 33 in Manatee County — have complained to state health officials about Chinese drywall in their homes.

The air testing comes as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is leading the investigation, faces greater Congressional pressure to adequately fund the probe and dozens of lawyers gathered in Orlando for a drywall litigation conference.

The Senate’s appropriations committee, saying it was “concerned that you are considering delaying key aspects of the investigation,” urged the commission Wednesday to find within its budget the $2 million needed to complete testing.

Three South Florida representatives also urged the House and Senate appropriations committees in a letter Thursday to keep the funding in the agency’s 2009 budget.

At the conference, sponsored by Harris Martin Publishing, lawyers from several states heard presentations about the drywall issue’s history, potential scope and legal ramifications.

A New Orleans attorney reported that it appears some U.S. drywall manufacturers bought Chinese wallboard and stamped it as U.S.-made, Fort Myers attorney Donald Brenner wrote on his blog.

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

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