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Chinese Drywall Problems Affecting United States Homes

Through the years of 2004 and 2008 at the height of the U.S. housing boom, building supplies were in high demand.  Builders were purchasing imported drywall since it was cheap and plentiful at that time. The Associated Press has estimated that over 500 million pounds of contaminated Chinese building materials were imported into the United States. The building materials included plasterboard, drywall, and ceiling tile panels. According to some estimates;  Chinese drywall may have been used in more than 100,000 homes, including the houses rebuilt after hurricane Katrina.  Supplies were short in the United States due to the housing boom, and the treacherous hurricane season in 2006. 

Unfortunately, the decision to buy imported building material is haunting many home owners in the Southeastern regions of the United States.  The contaminated Chinese drywall reportedly causes a chemical reaction emitting sulfur fumes that produce a revolting stench of “rotten eggs” which worsens with heat and humidity.  The chemical reaction may also corrode copper pipes, blacken jewelry and silverware, and could even sicken people.   There have been reports from residents living in a home or apartment with affected drywall of burning eyes, sinus headaches, wheezing, and respiratory problems.  Researchers do not yet know whether or not people who have been exposed to Chinese drywall will face long term health consequences.  According to the Associated Press; the Centers for Disease Control says, “That prolonged exposure to the compounds found in the drywall, especially high levels of carbon disulfide, can cause breathing problems, chest pains, and can affect the nervous system.”  The Florida Health Department says that more testing is needed to determine the possible long term side effects. 

No one knows yet exactly why the drywall has this chemical reaction and emits the sulfur fumes.  Scientists are hoping to find out why this is occurring by researching the chemicals in the board.   Drywall is used to cover walls consisting of wide, flat boards.  It is made from Gypsum, a frequent mineral that can be mined or manufactured from the byproducts of coal fired power plants.  U.S. wallboard manufacturers articulate that the tainted drywall was being made with fly ash, commonly found in fireworks, a remainder of coal incineration more frequently used in concrete mixtures.  Fly ash is less refined than the form used by U.S. drywall makers.  In the U.S. fly ash is gathered before it reaches the smokestack, where technology is then used to remove the fly ash, before the drywall is created.   

As of today, the problem in the United States mainly appears to be concentrated in the Southeast but is not restricted to this area.  Since the chemical reaction tends to happen in hotter and humid whether, it is hard to identify the exact number of effected homes.  It may be years before homeowners begin to see or smell the affects of the Chinese drywall in drier climates.  Experts are not yet positive if all of the batches imported into the United States were infected with the fly ash, or only certain batches.  Adding insult to injury, experts declare many homes could have been built with both Chinese and domestic drywall, potentially raising the quantity of effected homes to a much higher level.

 A number of signs to suggest whether or not your home may be contaminated with the drywall could be:                         

  • The house has a strong odor reminiscent of rotten eggs
  • Exposed copper wiring looks dark and corroded.  Silverware and silver jewelry may become just as equally dark and corroded over months of exposure
  • Check for a manufacturer’s label on the back of the drywall to connect it to the manufacturer’s linked to using the hazardous materials.  These labels can mainly be found in the attic behind insulation.   Some large manufacturers in these cases are:  Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, Knauf Gips, and Taishan Gypsum.
  • Send a drywall sample to a lab to be tested for dangerous levels of sulfur.  This is the best method but can be an expensive method.
  • Advanced Infrared imaging analysis could determine the contaminants in drywall as well.

Regrettably, Chinese drywall can not be repaired.  Effected homeowners are subject to potential health problems, failing appliances due to wire corrosion, or complete removal and replacement of the existing drywall.  Although there are no current governing bodies issuing regulations on the contaminated drywall, it is imperative that homeowners are educated on this matter and learn how to properly identify if their home could have been built with this problematic drywall.  If you feel your home could have been built with this drywall, please contact a professional home inspector to determine if your home may have been built with this contaminated drywall.

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