China launches drywall probe

Sen. Nelson ‘pleased but skeptical’ about pledge by Chinese


MANATEE — China is reacting to the massive scandal over tainted drywall potentially used in thousands of American homes by launching an official investigation into material exported to the United States.

China’s General Administration for Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine is “very concerned” about reports that the building material creates sulfur-like odors and corrodes air conditioning components, wiring and other metallic objects in homes, according to Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency.

News of the investigation was reported by UPI, China Radio International, and others on Wednesday.

An analysis of export data shows that enough drywall was shipped to the United States during the home-building boom to construct 60,000 homes from 2004 to 2006, about half of them in Florida.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who Tuesday visited the Lakewood Ranch home of Kristin Culliton, one of the first homeowners to report tainted drywall, has introduced a bill to recall the material and ban new imports.

Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Nelson, said the senator is pleased but skeptical about word coming out of China that it will investigate the tainted drywall problem. Nelson will do whatever he can to make sure the Chinese follow through on their pledge, McLaughlin said in an e-mail.

Nelson, who is asking President Obama to take up the tainted drywall problem with his Chinese counterpart later this year, also wants Obama to remove the top U.S. consumer watchdog for neglect of duty.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is “doing too little, too late to help residents of Florida and other states who are reporting serious health and safety problems associated with living in homes built with tainted drywall imported from China,” Nelson wrote to Obama in a letter released Wednesday.

Citing the previous problem of excessive levels of lead in toys imported from China, Nelson said Nancy Nord, acting chairwoman of the federal watchdog agency, is “too cozy with manufacturers” and too slow to act.

A bill introduced by Nelson would require the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission to join with the Environmental Protection Agency in investigating the drywall problem.

Culliton is now party to one of several class-action lawsuits and wants her builder, Taylor-Morrison, to buy her house back.

Another builder in Manatee County, Lennar, is working with homeowners in Heritage Harbour to remove tainted drywall from homes.

Lennar has filed suit in Miami-Dade County against Knauf Gips KG, a German corporation, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. and Taishan Gypsum, as well as eight drywall suppliers for product liability and breach of implied warranty. Also sued were a dozen installers for breach of contract and breach of express and implied warranty.

In addition to the corrosive effects on metal, there are also concerns about effects on human health.

More than 200 homeowners around the state have submitted complaints to the Florida Department of Health.

Locally, problems have been reported by residents of Lakewood Ranch, Palmetto, Heritage Harbour, Myakka City, Parrish and Ellenton, according to a state report released this week.

David Krause, a state toxicologist from the Florida Department of Health who accompanied Nelson Tuesday, said the jury is still out on possible health effects.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.