Product Liability

Toxic Chinese drywall used in many Florida homes

Florida homeowners whose walls are made of a defective and toxic brand of Chinese drywall have filed a class action lawsuit. The Florida Department of Health has received a flood of complaints from homeowners who suspect problems with their drywall, prompting Florida senator Bill Nelson to petition the Consumer Products Safety Commission and Environmental Protection Agency for an investigation.

The lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers used fly ash, a waste byproduct of Chinese power plants, in making the drywall. The drywall emits “one of several sulfur compounds including sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide,” the suit claims. In addition to imparting homes with a foul smell, investigators believe the sulfuric drywall emissions cause respiratory health problems and a range of other ailments including headaches, dry eyes, and nosebleeds. While the immediate health risks appear to be minor, nobody knows what the long-term affects of exposure to the substance are.

The sulfuric emissions have also been found to corrode air conditioning coils and wiring. Some of the Florida homeowners with suspect drywall complained of having to replace their air conditioning units multiple times because of corrosion. Corroded wires put homes at serious risk for electrical fires.

Some 550 million pounds of drywall have been imported from China since 2006 – enough to construct 60,000 average-size houses. One brand of drywall is particularly suspect: Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., Ltd. (KPT). That manufacturer typically stamps its name on the drywall, thereby making it the most identifiable. In the spring of 2006, the Port of Tampa received more than 16 million pounds of KPT drywall, which is enough to make nearly 2,000 homes.

Many suppliers imported drywall from China during the building boom and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which strained the domestic supply.

The class action lawsuit names the Knauf Group, PKT’s parent company; Banner Supply, a Miami-based materials supply company; and Rothchilt International, Ltd. , an export company in China. Legal experts believe many more lawsuits will follow.