State Politics

State senator moves to stem drywall crisis

MANATEE — A state senator says he is tired of waiting on Gov. Charlie Crist and the federal government to act more quickly on Chinese drywall, so he’s asking his fellow legislators to take action.

Sen. David Aronberg, D-Greenacres, has filed several bills that would create a task force on the problematic building product, set standards for drywall and ban any that exceed them, and require those who remove and replace Chinese drywall to be licensed by the state.

Aronberg said the bills are in response to what he called a slow government response to the issue.

“We can’t sit back and wait for Uncle Sam to fix the problem,” he said. “If we wait for the federal government to do it, we’ll be waiting a long time.”

More than 2,000 U.S. homeowners, including almost 700 in Florida, have complained that the drywall emits a “rotten eggs” odor, corrodes electrical and air-conditioning components and makes them sick. Florida health officials began investigating in 2008 and the federal government later launched its own multi-agency probe; both are on-going.

Several elected federal officials, including Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, have criticized the pace of the federal investigation.

Aronberg, whose district includes several neighborhoods grappling with Chinese drywall, also has called on Crist to appoint a task force to study the issue and make recommendations. Crist has not done so. In a response letter he sent in April 2009, Crist instead highlighted the state’s efforts to date.

That hasn’t satisfied Aronberg, who is asking the Legislature to create the task force. The proposed task force’s 19 members would include a health official, a homeowner with Chinese drywall, a physician, an attorney, a consumer advocate and a representative of the drywall industry.

It would be tasked with studying the health risks associated with the drywall, then recommending standards for drywall content, remediation and disposal.

The bill also would direct the Florida Building Commission to set limits on the amounts of sulfur and strontium within drywall and ban the use of any drywall that exceeds those limits. Testing has shown the problematic Chinese drywall contains higher levels of those elements than domestic drywall.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the lead agency in the federal drywall investigation, also is working on developing remediation standards and is considering whether to begin the process of drafting drywall standards. Aronberg said Florida’s building code can be tougher than federal requirements, but Florida can change its drywall standards later if they conflict with federal ones.

A separate bill by Aronberg would require the state to establish licensing standards for those remediating Chinese drywall, while another would lead to minimum inspection requirements for metal corrosion in homes with Chinese drywall.

No similar bills have been filed in the House, but Aronberg said he is working with a Central Florida representative who plans to introduce them in that chamber.

Although the upcoming legislative session in March is expected to be dominated by the state budget, Aronberg said he’s optimistic of his bills’ chances for passage.

“This issue has become a crisis, and we need to act quickly,” he said.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he hasn’t formed an opinion on Aronberg’s bills but said they will be debated.

“I am chair of two committees that is going to hear these bills, and we are going to hear them because I want to get the discussion started,” he said.

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

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