A few months ago we posted a very popular piece on this forum about Dragon Board (April 9, 2009), a drywall substitute that has many environmental, structural, and economic advantages.  We christened it almost too good to be true.  Let me quickly say that I stand by that statement.

But, in the course of researching that article we ran across a reference to Chinese gypsum, another drywall substitute, that was giving the Dragon Board people fits as customers confused their quality product with an import that was anything but green.  We rather off-handedly mentioned the confusion in our article. Let me state again - Chinese gypsum has nothing to do with Dragon Board!

Since then the negative news about Chinese gypsum, now commonly called Chinese dry wall, has exploded.

While use of the product has been primarily limited to the American south, everywhere it has been used it has created incredible nightmares for homeowners.

Our goal in this space is to write about the good in green, but it is worthwhile to occasionally mention its antithesis, and that appears to be Chinese drywall - in spades!

CPSC has received 1,897 reports of problems with the drywall from residents in 30 states, the District of Colombia, and Puerto Rico, but the product was most widely used in Florida where it is estimated that as many as 35,000 homes may contain the product, and Louisiana.  Those two areas were rebuilding after devastating hurricanes so many of those storm victims have now been hit with a double whammy.  The drywall was also used extensively in new construction, especially in 2005 and 2006.

Reports of the problems caused by the stuff read like a horror movie.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been investigating these reports and nothing conclusive has been proven, but the lawyers have been lining up for months, suits have been filed, and homeowner insurance companies are scrambling for ways to deny damage claims.

The drywall is said to emit toxic sulfur fumes.  While many homeowners report smelling the characteristic "rotten egg" odor, often at intolerable levels, others report health and structural problems but no odor.  Symptoms of exposure include sinus problems, nose bleeds, respiratory problems, and headaches.  The house itself often suffers even more.  The fumes are reported to corrode metal, especially copper, causing electrical, plumbing, appliances, and especially air conditioning systems to fail.  Many metals blacken, even jewelry.

Many people have moved out of their homes until the drywall can be removed; others who cannot afford to pay for temporary lodging and/or repairs have either been forced to stay put and endure the problems or have lost their homes to foreclosure.  Remediation is said to cost $75,000 and up.

The Florida insurance commissioner recently ruled that damages caused by the drywall are not recoverable under standard homeowner insurance policies.  Commissioner Kevin McCarty said that this is a malfcuntion "based upon a defective material that was installed in the building.  And that historically has been excluded from a homeowner's policy."  There is also the possiility that homeowners could lose coverage altogether if they move out for an extended period leaving the home vacant.

But homeowners are already finding that their insurance companies weren't waiting around for a legal ruling.  Claims have been rejected and then policies canceled simply because a claim was submitted.

A number of lawsuits have been filed, both individual and class action, against the Chinese manufacturers, one of which is owned by the Chinese government.  It will be interesting to see how that works out.

No Chinese drywall has been imported into the U.S. in 2009, at least not legally.  The Border Patrol is working with CPSC to make sure that it doesn't come in through the back door but there are apparently still stockpiles of the material in U.S. warehouses.

In the meantime, CPSC is actively studying the problem.  In late October it released the results of three preliminary studies of the differences between Chinese and non-Chinese drywall.  The results of the two laboratory studies indicated that the Chinese product contained elemental sulfur and emits higher concentrations of volaile sulfur compounds than the non-Chinese drywall.  It also contains higher concentrations of strontium.  The Commission states that the strontium does not pose a radiological risk.

The third study took place in ten Florida and Louisiana homes.  Researchers found that sulfur gases were either not present or were present in only limited or occasional concentrations and then only where outdoor levels were also elevated.  The study, however, did detect concentrations of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, both known irritants.

So, nothings scientifally damning so far.  Yet people continue to suffer both economically and health wise.

This story has a long way to go.