Video: Owners sue over drywall

updated 5/19/2009 9:37:47 PM ET 2009-05-20T01:37:47

The Environmental Protection Agency has found suspect materials in a small sampling of Chinese-made drywall, adding weight to fears that the house-building staple may be causing corrosion in homes and possibly sickening people in several states, a report released Tuesday said.

The EPA tested Chinese-made wallboard in two Florida homes and discovered sulfur and two organic compounds associated with acrylic paint, the report said. Those chemicals were not found in four samples of American-made drywall. Also, the agency said it found strontium at higher levels in the Chinese product than in U.S. wallboard. Strontium compounds are used in making ceramics, pyrotechnics, paint pigments, fluorescent lights and medicine.

Shipping records reviewed by The Associated Press indicated that imports of potentially tainted Chinese building materials exceeded 500 million pounds during a four-year period of soaring home prices, peaking in 2006. The drywall may have been used in more than 100,000 homes, according to some estimates, including houses rebuilt after 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Rotten-egg stench
The boards apparently cause a chemical reaction that gives off a rotten-egg stench that grows worse with heat and humidity and corrodes metal. Researchers do not know yet what causes it, but possible culprits include fumigants sprayed on the drywall and material inside it.

The EPA noted in the report that its two-home sample may not be representative of all drywall products. Also, the agency said the report was not done to see if there was a link between the Chinese drywall and "the conditions being observed in houses."

EPA officials did not immediately comment on its report that was released by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Several federal and state agencies are investigating complaints that the drywall is corroding copper pipes, blackening jewelry and silverware and causing health problems.

Landrieu and Nelson are calling on Congress to include $2 million in a war spending bill to enable the Consumer Protection Safety Commission and other federal agencies to more thoroughly research the extent of problems with the Chinese drywall.

Nelson said the EPA results shed light on what was in the material.

"In the end, I think all this stuff is going to have to be ripped out" of homes, Nelson said.

Government needs 'answers'
Landrieu said the government needs to "get answers for families with sick children and pets, construction workers and builders removing the product, and local health officials who are concerned with dumping the drywall in their landfills."

The drywall was brought into the U.S. when building materials were in short supply and because the Chinese-made drywall was abundant and cheap.

Dozens of homeowners in the Southeast have sued builders, suppliers and manufacturers, claiming the very walls around them are emitting smelly sulfur compounds that are poisoning their families and rendering their homes uninhabitable.

Builders have filed their own lawsuits against suppliers and manufacturers, claiming they unknowingly used the bad building materials.

Companies that produced some of the wallboard, including Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, a Chinese company named in many of the lawsuits, said they are looking into the complaints, but downplayed the possibility of health risks.

A spokesman for KPT did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Problems reported in several states
A Florida Department of Health analysis found the Chinese drywall emits "volatile sulfur compounds," and contains traces of strontium sulfide, which can produce the rotten-egg odor, but that it had not discovered "an imminent or chronic health hazard at this time."

Dr. Patricia Williams, a University of New Orleans toxicologist hired by a Louisiana law firm that represents plaintiffs in some of the cases, said the EPA report appeared to corroborate the findings of experts hired by plaintiffs' lawyers.

"It sounds similar to what we are finding," she said. She added that exposure to the compounds being found in the drywall could cause serious problems.

Besides Florida and Louisiana, the senators said problems with Chinese-made drywall have been reported in Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, California.

On Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the issue of Chinese-made drywall.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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