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Crist urged to create drywall task force

MANATEE — A state senator and a consumer advocate called on Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday to appoint a Chinese drywall task force, saying quick state action is needed to avoid “hysteria” over the controversial product.

The task force’s mission should be to determine the best way to remove and replace any defective drywall, and recommend whether new or revised state laws or regulations are needed — possibly through a special legislative session — to address the issue, said Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres.

Aronberg and Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, urged the task force’s creation during a conference call with reporters.

“I applaud him for taking the first step,” Aronberg said of Crist’s recent request for a federal investigation into possible health risks from Chinese-made drywall. “I think it’s time for the state to take the next step.”

In response, Crist’s press office said the governor is monitoring the situation and has been briefed by state health officials, who are coordinating their efforts with other state and federal agencies also looking into the issue.

More than 250 Florida homeowners, including 31 in Manatee County, have complained that Chinese-made drywall in their homes emits a rotten-eggs odor, corrodes metal air-conditioning parts and electrical wires, and causes headaches, difficulty breathing and other health problems.

Most of those homes were built in 2004 or later, when a housing boom caused domestic drywall shortages and Chinese drywall imports to surge.

The complaints have led to multiple class-action lawsuits against manufacturers, several state and federal investigations and calls for a temporary federal ban on Chinese drywall imports. President Barack Obama also is expected to discuss the issue with Chinese leaders later this month.

While the issue has been centered in Florida, there has been no coordinated statewide response — which could lead to a multitude of well-meaning but conflicting local ordinances and actions on the matter, Aronberg said.

“There’s a lot of widespread concern, and it’s justified. but we need not have a wave of hysteria,” he said. “If the state doesn’t act, then local governments will.”

The proposed task force would “replace this hysteria with a sense of urgency,” Aronberg said.

The task force should include consumer advocates, scientists, health officials, homebuilders and drywall manufacturers, the men said. It has no timetable for taking any action, but should move quickly, they said.

“It really is the right approach,” said Dartland, a former Florida deputy attorney general who focused on consumer laws.

Also Friday, state health officials announced they plan to soon take air samples from homes containing Chinese drywall to determine whether or not it poses a health risk. The Florida Department of Health gave no other details other than saying it hopes to start testing within a few weeks.

The agency also said it has updated its Chinese drywall Web site to help homeowners determine whether or not they have the product. The Web site, doh.state.fl.us/environment/community/indoor-air/casedefinition.html, now contains a case definition and photos.

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

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