Drywall problem grabs attention of state leaders

Feb 9, 2009

Bradenton Herald--February 9, 2009


MANATEE – The tainted drywall problem plaguing homeowners and the building industry now has a very public face.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who suspects a problem with tainted drywall, is in the process of moving his family out of their home in Fort Myers, Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the governor’s office, has confirmed.

Complaints to the Florida Health Department are mounting while the state conducts its own investigation about whether there is a health risk related to the tainted drywall. The most recent statement released shows about 75 residents have contacted the department.

Tests have been conducted on at least a dozen homes in Florida and health officials are waiting for the results to determine how to deal with the situation, Ivey said.

“Until the test results come back, until we as a state really know, we can’t answer the question of what we’re going to do,” he said.

The defective drywall has been known to cause copper wiring and air conditioning components to corrode. Other electrical appliances like TVs, computers, refrigerators and microwaves, are also affected by the sulfur compounds emitted from the drywall, according to residents.

In Manatee County, the problem has begun to balloon with more reports surfacing from at least four separate neighborhoods, including Lakewood Ranch, Heritage Harbour, Crystal Lakes and Fairways at Imperial Lakewoods.

A Lakewood Ranch resident living in Greenbrook Terrace discovered that drywall imported from China was installed in her home more than a year ago. A class action lawsuit has been filed against the developer, Taylor Morrison Homes, on behalf of the resident. Taylor Morrison has declined to comment on pending litigation.

A few homeowners in Crystal Lakes, another Taylor Morrison development in Palmetto, have also found the drywall is eating away at electrical components, including the air conditioner.

Grant Reid should know. His home had all the tell-tale signs of drywall problems. In two years, the family has gone through an air-conditioning coil, a TV, three digital video recorders and an oven. His wife’s jewelry has even been tarnished.

But it wasn’t until he heard of other people battling the same issues that he realized what was plaguing his home. He’s positive Knauf drywall has been installed in the home after looking at pictures he took to document the construction of his home.

“It’s crazy how much stuff has been lost that we’ve had to replace over the last two or two and a half years, and we didn’t even know what caused it,” he said.

Since moving his family out of their Crystal Lakes home two weeks ago, they say their health has improved.

His son, Nickolas, and his wife, Kathryn, who both have symptoms of asthma, have reduced dependence on their treatments.

Developer Taylor Morrison, which has not offered any restitution, has agreed to conduct air quality tests on the home. But to Reid, the jury is still out on whether exposure to the drywall is a health hazard. He’s waiting to see what the state’s test results conclude.

“That’s really the only thing that they have committed to so far,” he said. “They’re just not stepping up to the plate. They’re not willing to help out.”

Taylor Morrison, which issued a statement in January pledging high-quality customer service and building materials, did not have anything further to add as of Friday.

“We are confident that we are thoroughly addressing the particular issue at hand by implementing an investigation in the matter and taking steps to achieve customer satisfaction. This included air quality testing, the results of which met health and safety standards,” the statement said.

Other builders like WCI Communities and Lennar Corp., are also dealing with drywall issues.

WCI, which has received complaints about possible tainted drywall, believes the drywall from China may have been installed in its homes built before filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company, which said in a statement it is investigating the issue, did not indicate whether homes in Manatee County were affected.

But builder Lennar Corp. has been active in relocating residents in an East Manatee neighborhood of Heritage Harbour, which has at least 23 homes affected. In mid-January, residents on Montauk Point Crossing began moving out of their homes. Lennar has since gutted homes to replace drywall and other affected materials in the house.

The builder also has hired environmental firm Environ International to conduct tests on at least 100 Lennar homes. Environ found that the sulfur compounds emitted from the drywall were to blame for the blackened copper wiring and corroded air conditioning units, but does not believe that the levels in the air pose a health risk to residents.

Lennar Corp. has also filed a lawsuit against distributors, installers and manufactures of the Chinese drywall, including Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co. and Taishan Gypsum.

Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co. officials also say they don’t believe the drywall is a health risk to residents, and they call Lennar’s litigation an “unneeded distraction” for both companies and the homeowners, according to a Knauf Tianjin media statement released last Monday.

Knauf Tianjin said in the statement it has responded to Lennar’s and other home builders’ health concerns, adding that some Lennar homes contained drywall made by other companies.

“The company will not be a scapegoat for home builders who would seek a quick and convenient bailout based on false claims,” the release stated. “The company intends to vigorously defend its good name and reputation.”

Named in the lawsuit also is L&W Supply Corp., which distributed some Chinese wallboard in Florida in 2006, according to a statement from USG Corp., a parent company of L&W Supply.

The wallboard imported from China represents less than a half of 1 percent of L&W Supply Corp.’s total wallboard shipments in Florida in 2006. Manufacturer Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd. is investigating and addressing the problem with the home builders, the statement said.

“USG Corporation is aware of complaints related to Chinese-made wallboard that was imported into Florida in 2006. USG and its subsidiaries do not manufacture wallboard in China,” the statement said.