As if the problems with Chinese drywall weren't bad enough, two fires are being investigated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office to see if toxic drywall contributed to the blazes. It's not too far-fetched given the reports of corroded electrical wiring, air conditioner coils, and other appliances and electronics degraded by the drywall.
The Los Angeles Times reported this week that some experts believe the problematic drywall was made using a radioactive phosphorus substance—phosphogypsum—that is banned for construction use in the U.S. but has been used by Chinese manufacturers for almost a decade.
Copies of Chinese customs reports obtained by The Times indicate that drywall made with phosphogypsum was shipped to the U.S. in 2006 by at least four Chinese-based manufacturers and trading firms. "The health risk of phosphogypsum is uncertain," the newspaper reported. "But industry specialists say they are troubled by its widespread use and the possibility it was exported."
Also this week, the CPSC responded to four senators who last month asked the agency to "expedite its investigation and testing" of the drywall. In its status report, the CPSC said it was working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies to "coordinate a federal action plan." This involves collecting samples of drywall and degraded electrical components, taking air samples in affected homes, and formulating health advice for residents.
The CPSC says it has received more than 608 incident reports from 21 states and the District of Columbia with most coming from Florida, Louisiana, and Virginia.
In an earlier analysis comparing some samples of imported drywall with its American-made counterpart, the EPA discovered:
- Sulfur was detected in all of the Chinese drywall samples, but in none of the four U.S.-manufactured drywall samples.
- Significant levels of strontium were detected in the Chinese drywall samples. Strontium was also detected in the U.S.-made samples, but at much lower levels.
- Two organic compounds associated with acrylic paints were found in the Chinese drywall samples, but not in the U.S.-made samples.
Lawsuits filed by homeowners around the country against home builders, suppliers, and manufacturers have been transferred to federal court in New Orleans; Louisiana is one of the hardest hit states.
But reaching a settlement could take some time, leaving homeowners with little recourse for now. Unfortunately, it seems the only sure way to rid a home of problems is to tear out the Chinese drywall and replace it—a very expensive and involved process.
Our Take: While the finger pointing as well as the CPSC, CDC and EPA investigations continue, affected consumers should be extra vigilant in monitoring potential health effects as well as electrical safety hazards that might occur from yet another tainted product from China.