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Drywall problem could lead to new laws

MANATEE — Concerns over health and safety issues raised by Chinese drywall could make their make way into the Florida Legislature.

Community Advocacy Network, a nonprofit organization that represents more than 1,000 community associations, has been monitoring the growing concerns and receiving more calls everyday, said Executive Director Donna Berger.

Depending on how widespread the problem is, there may be a need to lobby lawmakers to address the issue in the next legislative session, she said.

Legislation may be needed to protect consumers, especially if health problems are linked to the tainted drywall.

“We think this is going to be a big problem. We think it will probably be addressed legislatively at some point,” Berger said.

The organization first learned of the problem about three weeks ago when condo associations were being contacted about the problems with the drywall, which has been reported to emit sulfur odors and corrode wiring in homes. People also experienced problems with failed air conditioning units.

Some people may not even be aware that the drywall is from China unless the walls are exposed to moisture. The problem has been discovered after steam cleaning the carpets or wiping down the walls with a sponge, Berger said. A managing partner for Katzman Garfinkel Rosenbaum, a law firm in Fort Lauderdale, Berger advises people to be proactive in finding out what type of drywall was installed in their homes.

“It’s really a question of tracking down who built what when and where they imported it from,” she said.

Chinese drywall was imported into the United States when there was a shortage of dry wall during the housing boom from 2002 to 2006. The drywall is made of gypsum, which contains sulfur. The sulfur is typically filtered out, but it is likely that the filler was placed back into the drywall, she said.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he is unsure whether the matter will go before the legislature or be handled by the Florida Building Commission, which reviews and approves products for construction use in Florida.

A shipment of drywall would likely be enough drywall to build several hundred homes, he said. In the past, similar issues with products used on homes have become a concern, including hardy board used on the outside of homes on Tidy Island in Bradenton.

“It’s not unusual that we have some of these problems. All the product testing in the world doesn’t help until you get it out in the field,” Bennett said. “Sometimes, these problems don’t come up until five or six years down the road. That’s when you found out you’ve got a problem and you have to address it.”

Edie Ousley, spokeswoman for Florida Home Builders Association, said the problem, not only with the drywall from China, but also tainted toothpaste and baby formula, calls for a greater need for regulator efforts by the federal government to protect consumers.

“Builders certainly do not intentionally purchase products that are defective,” she said. “Our builders purchase products in good faith just like a homeowner does when he goes to purchase products from a big box supply store to make repairs on homes.

“I think we’re kind of like a lot of people. We’re trying to get a good grasp about how widespread the problem is,” Ousley said.

Jessica Klipa, staff writer, can be contacted at 748-0411, ext.7906,

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