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Drywall lawsuit, more complaints filed

MANATEE — More complaints from homeowners over possible tainted drywall have been reported and a class-action lawsuit has been filed in Sarasota County.

In just a few weeks, the number of complaints registered with the Florida Health Department has risen from 30 to 54 from Manatee, Sarasota, Pinellas, St. Lucie, Martin, Lee, Collier, Dade, Hillsborough and Charlotte counties.

The drywall, which is blamed for a foul odor and corrosion on metal in the home, has been reported in homes developed by Lennar Homes and Taylor Morrison.

The latest complaints included several more homes in Heritage Harbour, as well as a home in Palmetto, another home in Lakewood Ranch, and one off Upper Manatee River Road.

Lennar has started temporarily moving affected residents out of their homes in Heritage Harbour to replace defective drywall.

The class-action lawsuit against Taylor Morrison seeks monetary damages for severe structural damage to the homes, electrical wiring, plumbing, metal components and personal property.

The lawsuit was filed by Darren Inverso, a Sarasota attorney, on behalf of Kristin Culliton, a Lakewood Ranch resident. Culliton has not lived in her Greenbrook Terrace home for more than a year. She believes that drywall imported from China was to blame for a bad odor and corroded air conditioning components.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are Taylor Morrison, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., the manufacturers of the Chinese drywall and Rothchilt International, a company that distributes the product into the United States.

Inverso estimates a minimum of 100 homeowners will eventually join the class-action lawsuit.

A manufacturer of plasterboard for more than nine years, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. said it had never known its drywall to blacken copper or AC units until complaints began to surface in July 2008, according to a statement released in mid-January.

Knauf drywall, which was one of several Chinese products to be imported into the United States during the housing boom and following Hurricane Katrina, was reported to have a slight, naturally occurring odor.

But the company has conducted investigations and tests showing that the low levels of sulfur gases emitted from the drywall pose no health risk to people within the homes, the release said.

The company holds to the statement despite complaints of mild respiratory problems by homeowners.

Michael Foreman, a construction consultant for Foreman & Associates, Inc. in Sarasota, has found the drywall from Knauf Plasterboard Co. to be defective.

A sample of the drywall that Foreman has found is marked with an outdated standard, “ASTM C36.”

ASTM stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials, which is an international standards organization that develops standards for products and materials.

The C36 standard was replaced in December 2004 with “ASTM C1396.”

What’s puzzling is why the sample of the C36 drywall was apparently produced in March 2006, two years after the standard was supposed to have been changed, he said.

While Knauf Plasterboard Co. has been blamed for producing defective drywall, not all drywall from China has been a problem, Foreman said.

“There are several manufacturers of the Chinese drywall. Not all are bad,” he said.

Some drywall from at least one Chinese-based company seems to be fine. But he has discovered that some American drywall may be suspect because some of the components may have been manufactured in China, Foreman said.

Foreman, who is conducting preliminary testing free of charge, has been offering services to clients with homes built from 2004 to 2007.

The Gypsum Association released a statement that China imported about 300 million square feet of gypsum board into the U.S. from 2006-2007. During the same time, about 65.7 billion square feet of gypsum board was used in the United States, with 65.3 billion square feet coming from North American sources, the statement said.

Although not all drywall imported into the United States during 2006 and 2007 was made by Knauf, Foreman believes that a significant amount was from the company.

“In my opinion, there are few, if any builders, that won’t be affected by this,” Foreman said.

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