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The Problem with Imported Chinese Drywall

   The problems with imported Chinese drywall surfaced in 2004 in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. Owners of newly constructed and renovated homes began to notice foul odors, darkening and corrosion of metal components in their homes, and subsequent failures of heating and air conditioning systems. At the time I'm writing this, more than 1900 homeowner complaints had been voiced in Gulf Coast states. The resulting investigations have exposed one of the biggest construction debacles in recent times.
   In response to a growing number of complaints, an investigation was launched in 2006 to determine the source of the odors, and the causes of the metal corrosion and discoloration. Lennar, the nation's second-largest builder, hired a company called Environ to conduct testing in Florida homes where home owners complained of a rotten egg smell and problems with HVAC units. An ongoing investigation is currently under way by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as well.
   Testing revealed that drywall in these homes was emitting sulfur-based gases, which are corrosive to some metals. More specifically, strontium sulfide, a volatile sulfuric compound, was causing the problem. Heat and humidity was cited as a triggering factor, since it enabled gases to escape from the drywall.
   This would explain the rotten egg smell and rampant corrosion of metal in these homes. Corrosion and discoloration affected everything from metal picture frames to bathroom faucets and copper piping. Making matters worse, it deteriorated the metal fins on air conditioning units and heating appliances, leading to failure.

Why was drywall imported from China?

   Evidence points to imported Chinese drywall as the culprit. It is estimated that between 2004 and 2008, nearly 500 million pounds of drywall was imported from China. During this time period, extensive renovation and construction was under way in Gulf Coast states as a result of hurricane damage. Storm damage from Hurricane Katrina and several others contributed to a shortage of gypsum board (drywall), forcing construction companies and contractors to look abroad for a source of materials. Chinese companies, 20 of them, supplied drywall to American consumers during this period. CBS News reports that as many as 100,000 homes in 8 U.S. states may contain imported Chinese drywall.
   As we're aware from recent news reports, many Chinese companies aren't held to very high standards of manufacture. Lead in imported children's toys and contaminated pet food have tempered American enthusiasm for Chinese products, and the drywall problem will surely add fuel to the controversy. Chinese officials and manufacturers of Chinese drywall have summarily denied allegations of shoddy manufacturing processes or the use of substandard materials.

Domestic and Imported Drywall: What's the Difference Between Them?

   Drywall that is manufactured in the United States uses mineral gypsum. Domestic gypsum is white to off-white in color, while imported gypsum is often darker in color and more prone to crumbling. So, what causes the color difference?
   According to several recent reports, the difference is due to fly-ash used in the Chinese drywall. Not only does it darken the gypsum substrate, but it weakens the ionic bond between molecules, causing it to crumble more easily. Fly-ash is the by-product of various manufacturing processes, and contains...among other things...strontium sulfide.

Homeowners: Caught in the Middle of the Chinese Drywall Controversy

   For homeowners, the nightmare is compounded by the fact that the drywall cannot be repaired; it has to be replaced to rid the home of sulfuric gases. Corrosion of metal piping and components is extensive in many cases, leading to the replacement of entire plumbing and heating systems. Resale values have plummeted in homes where the imported drywall was installed, and some homeowners are unable to live in their homes because of the noxious gases and their health effects. Insurance companies in some cases are refusing to pay for repairs, pointing the homeowner instead toward their builder or contractor to remedy the situation.
   Builders and contractors are inundated with lawsuits which could take a decade or more to wind their way through the court system. Losses could total $25 billion, according to some estimates.

 How to Identify Imported Chinese Drywall: Some Clues  

  As of this writing, there are no government standards for inspection or identification of Chinese-made drywall. If a label can be located on the drywall, it can be used for identification, since much of the drywall was manufactured by Knauf, a subsidiary of a German construction materials conglomerate. In most cases these labels aren't visible on the drywall, since the sheets are installed with the label on the wall's interior. The back of the sheets are sometimes visible from an attic or crawl space.
Other clues to the possible presence of Chinese drywall:

- the telltale odor of rotten eggs (from the sulfuric gases)
- a brown or black residue on copper water piping
- corroded or discolored areas on metal fixtures, mirror frames, and     jewelry
- corroded metal "fins" on A/C and heating units
- recurrent sinus and respiratory problems, wheezing, headache, sore throat




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