Product Liability

U.S. issues new recommendations for dealing with toxic Chinese drywall

The U.S. government has revised its list of recommended measures to take when dealing with “problem drywall,” which it estimates to be installed in tens of thousands of homes throughout the United States. Thousands of homeowners who purchased homes built from 2005 to 2008, mostly in Florida and other parts of the Southeast, have complained of noxious fumes emitting from their walls, rendering their homes unlivable and unsellable.

The problem has been linked to drywall imported from China, which contains a high percentage of sulfuric compounds harvested from industrial waste. The drywall releases hydrogen sulfide gas, which causes a range of respiratory illnesses and corrodes metal in household appliances, electronics, and wiring. Just as importantly, the drywall smells bad. Homeowners affected by the Chinese drywall almost always complain of a constant, unrelenting sulfuric stench in their homes.

The enormity of the problem prompted the federal government to establish the Interagency Task Force on Problem Drywall, a consortium of regulators from the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and Housing and Urban Development department (HUD). The task force commissioned a study of the drywall at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, and has issued an updated “remediation protocol” for affected homes.

After simulating more than 40 years of corrosive conditions that exist in homes affected by the problem drywall, Sandia staff says it did not observe any acute or long-term electrical safety problems posed by the corrosion, such as smoking or fire. The lab said that corrosion and blackening of electrical components did indeed occur and were consistent with the corrosion reported by thousands of consumers, but that this corrosion did not form a fire hazard or other danger.

Based on these findings the drywall task force no longer recommends replacing the electrical wiring in affected homes. That recommendation ought to save homeowners, insurance companies, and builders millions of dollars in repair costs.

With these changes, the remediation guidance for homes with problem drywall calls for the replacement of all:

  • problem drywall;
  • fire safety alarm devices, including smoke and carbon monoxide alarms;
  • electrical distribution components, including receptacles, switches and circuit breakers; and
  • gas service piping and fire suppression sprinkler systems.