Miami Herald: Chinese drywall report delayed

Oct 30, 2009

The Miami Herald published this article on October 30, 2009

Homeowners hoping to find out whether imported drywall is the source of their misery must wait for additional test results from the federal government.


WASHINGTON — Homeowners who have been living with what they suspect are problems related to Chinese drywall may have to wait months before they know whether their suspicions are true.

An eagerly anticipated initial report on scientific testing by the Consumer Product Safety Commission revealed Thursday that the agency and its federal partners still do not know if there is any direct link between the import and the problems homeowners are experiencing, which range from breathing troubles to corroded air-conditioner coils. They also said they would not know if corrosion of wire and metals is related to drywall until next summer.

The results — and lack of conclusions — angered Florida Sen. Bill Nelson. At a briefing for members of Congress, he expressed impatience with the pace of the investigation, asking CPSC staffers whether “it was typical that a study would take this long.”

The agency first started hearing complaints about problems associated with drywall about a year ago.

“If you hear impatience in my voice, you are an accurate judge,” Nelson said. “What I am reflecting is people’s concerns, their financial devastation, health effects.”

Lori Saltzman, a director in the consumer protection agency’s office of Hazard Identification, said she understood the frustration of lawmakers and homeowners but accurate, sound testing takes time.

“We’d like to be able to give you an answer that we know is 100 percent,” she said. “Unfortunately, forensic investigation does take time. We want to get you the right answer.”

The agency has called the drywall investigation the largest in its history. To date, it has cost $3.5 million, spokesman Scott Wolfson said. It has received about 1,900 complaints from 30 states and the District of Columbia. The Florida Department of Health had nearly 700 complaints on file as of Thursday.

Drywall was imported for several years, during the housing boom and to accommodate builders reconstructing homes following devastating hurricanes. Some estimates say as many as 100,000 homes nationwide were built with Chinese wallboard.

Among Thursday’s findings: The CPSC said it found higher concentrations of strontium in Chinese drywall than other drywall it tested. But the EPA had already come to a similar conclusion in May. Other test results show the drywall emits sulfuric compounds — similar to conclusions by the Florida Department of Health earlier this year.

Michael McGeehin, a division director with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the symptoms homeowners report match a kind of indoor air quality contamination.

When he visited a home with Chinese drywall, he said he experienced the kind of throat, eye and nose irritation homeowners have complained about.

More test results from a larger sample of homes will be shared in November.

Many homeowners have moved out of their homes, still paying mortgages and rent each month. Others can’t afford to leave and are stuck in their smelly houses. On Thursday, a proposal advanced in the U.S. House that would allow homeowners whose primary residence has Chinese drywall to get Small Business Administration loans.

When CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum visited China this month, she said Chinese authorities appear cooperative. Still, Nelson sent President Barack Obama a letter Thursday, asking him to discuss imported drywall with Chinese President Hu Jintao when the pair meet next month.

“Our two countries must work together to remedy this situation and establish policies to make sure that contaminated building materials are not exported to the United States,” Nelson wrote, “and that the responsible parties help remediate the harm done.”