Product Liability

Chinese drywall problem more widespread than originally thought

If it’s not lead in paint or melamine in dog food, then perhaps it’s poisonous drywall? The latest batch of toxic Chinese imports – some 550 million pounds of highly sulfuric drywall – has found its way into homes throughout the U.S. and even Canada. The cheap Chinese drywall flooded into the U.S. during the building boom, beginning in 2004, and peaked as the bustling economy and Hurricane Katrina put a strain on domestically manufactured drywall. Most of the affected homes appear to be in Florida, but newly constructed homes in several states and beyond are also affected.

When we last reported on the drywall problem back in February, lawsuits against the drywall manufacturers and suppliers were just beginning to appear. Now, according to some estimates, the number of cases could pile up to 75,000 or more nationwide.

The toxic drywall is allegedly made of fly ash, a waste byproduct of power plants, and contains sulfur compounds that impart a foul smell to homes, corrode air conditioning coils and electrical wiring, and cause a spectrum of respiratory health problems and other ailments.

In Florida, more than 150 lawsuits representing some 15,000 plaintiffs have been filed throughout the state from Miami to Pensacola.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation Solution is holding a hearing next week in Louisville, Kentucky, to decide whether the cases filed in the federal court system should be consolidated into a single case with a single judge.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold the first Senate hearing on the drywall matter next Thursday morning. Part of the hearing will be devoted to determining whether the drywall is a serious health threat. Knauf Tianjin, the German-Chinese manufacturer, admits the wallboard can have a bad smell but insists that it poses no health risks to humans. Many people have fled from their homes, however, claiming that their houses were making them sick.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has asked Congress for $2 million to fund its investigations of the drywall problem. According to the News-Press of Ft. Meyers, Florida, authorities from the Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control, and the Florida state Health Department are in southwest Florida this week touring some of the homes tainted by Chinese drywall.