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Obama urged to discuss drywall problems with Chinese president

LAKEWOOD RANCH — With tainted Chinese drywall in 60,000 American homes, including 30,000 in Florida, President Barack Obama must broach the subject of culpability with the Chinese president, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said.

“That issue will be an agenda item when the president goes to China at the end of the year and visits with Chinese president Hu Jintao,” Nelson said.

Nelson spent Tuesday morning touring a Lakewood Ranch home containing tainted Chinese drywall.

Nelson, who is allergic to mold and mildew, said he experienced symptoms within moments of entering Kristin Culliton’s home.

“You can hear it in my voice,” said Nelson, referring to the sour, vinegary odor that seemed to instantly cause a scratchy feeling at the back of the throat of Nelson and other visitors.

Nelson has proposed legislation to remedy the drywall problem. His bill, if made law, would initiate a drywall recall and would impose an immediate ban on imported Chinese drywall.

The bill would also ask the Consumer Products Safety Commission to join with federal testing labs and the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the danger level of chemicals and compounds in the drywall.

The tainted material acts as a corrosive agent on metal, particularly air conditioning components and household wiring.

Some also believe it poses a health risk. According to a Florida Department of Health report released Tuesday, 213 Floridians from more than 20 counties have filed reports with the state. In January, the state had received fewer than 40 drywall complaints.

Hot spots have been reported in Heritage Harbour, Lakewood Ranch, Ellenton and Palmetto neighborhoods.

The manufacturer should be held responsible for damages, if not necessarily the builders, Nelson said.

Nelson, whose visit drew a crowd of media, neighbors and attorneys, brought with him samples of non-contaminated and tainted Chinese drywall. The Chinese drywall was crumbly and spongy while the other was solid.

“I don’t like to see you people suffer,” Nelson said, addressing several neighbors on Skip Jack Loop, where he was invited to tour a home purchased for $331,000 by Kristin Culliton.

Nelson visited two houses in Cape Coral on Monday, the Culliton house Tuesday and will be meeting with a group of homeowners in West Palm Beach today.

Culliton’s Skip Jack Loop neighbor, Jeff Kahler, said he thinks all the homes on their side of Skip Jack Loop have Chinese drywall, but not everyone is aware of it.

“Some people are snowbirds and some just use their home as a vacation home,” Kahler said.

Unlike Culliton, who is able to live with her mother, Kay, in a two-bedroom condo nearby, Kahler, his wife and children, have nowhere to go.

“What are we supposed to do?” the Kahlers wondered.

Culliton is a single mother who used to sell houses for builder Taylor-Morrison. She moved into her Taylor-Morrison home in September 2006, noticed the smell in November 2007 and moved out Dec. 16, 2007 when she was two months pregnant with her son, Kaden.

She said Taylor-Morrison told her the drywall, posed no health risk, and that she should buy an air ventilation system to air the house out.

She wants Taylor-Morrison to buy her home back. She doesn’t think ripping out the drywall and replacing it with new drywall will correct the problem.

“This is not how my life was supposed to be,” said Culliton, who is now unemployed.

Her furniture is ruined since it has the same vinegary odor, said Culliton who put $140,000 down on her home and has a $1,200 a month mortgage on what she now considers a worthless house. Foreclosure is out, she said, because she wants to maintain her stellar credit.

“Who would want that?” said Culliton, referring to her house.

On a tour of Culliton’s home, Nelson used a screwdriver to scrape at the black coating on air conditioning tubing and uncovered gleaming copper underneath.

“Imagine what it does to lungs if it does this to copper,” Culliton said.

David Krause, a state toxicologist from the Florida Department of Health, said the odor in Culliton’s home was worse than some he has visited in the state but not as bad as others.

Although the corrosive odor is obviously present, whether it’s absolutely a health hazard has yet to be determined, Krause said.

“Our preliminary findings agree with independent consultants that something is there,” Krause said, referring to homes all over the state. “But the concentrations are low.”

Culliton was one of the first Manatee County residents to go public with her concerns about tainted drywall. There are several class-action lawsuits over tainted drywall which have been filed on behalf of homeowners.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.

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