senators call for Chinese drywall
probe By Peter J Brown
In early June, four prominent United
States senators notified the US Consumer Product
Safety Commission (CPSC) that firm action needs to
be taken by the CPSC over mounting evidence that
drywall imported from China is causing damage to
thousands of US homes and adversely impacting the
health of thousands. The CPSC has acknowledged
that the commission had received 360 complaints by
the time the letter arrived.
known by many names, including gypsum board,
plasterboard, and wallboard. In homes around the
world, it is used to form interior walls and
ceilings. Drywall is manufactured by placing
gypsum, a very soft mineral, between two sheets of
paper and then drying it in a kiln.
Approximately a week after the letter
arrived at the CPSC, 10
separate class action
lawsuits in three states involving drywall
imported from China were combined into a single
legal proceeding under a US federal judge in New
Orleans. The case is known as
"Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Products Liability
Litigation" and it brings together eight lawsuits
from Florida, one from Ohio, and one from
In addition to these lawsuits,
more than 60 other similar lawsuits have been
identified and will ultimately be included as
A Chinese company, Knauf
Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co Ltd (KPT) is named in
three of these 10 lawsuits, and Knauf Gips KG is
named in four of the lawsuits. Both are part of
Knauf, a German conglomerate. Various US builders
and drywall distributors are also named.
However, another Chinese company which has
been linked to this tainted drywall phenomenon
stands out from the rest. It is state-owned
Beijing New Building Material PLC (BNBM) which
holds a controlling interest in Taishan Gypsum Co
Ltd, also known as Taian Taishan Plasterboard and
Shandong Taihe Dongxin Co Ltd, according to the
Sarasota (Florida) Herald-Tribune.
only is BNBM conducting its own investigation, but
the CPSC and China's General Administration for
Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine
(AQSIQ) are also exchanging information about what
is happening, according to the Sarasota
Herald-Tribune. There are reports that a mine in
Shandong province is the source of the problem,
but this has not been verified. 
their letter, the four US senators make it clear
that they are not going to stand by and await the
outcome of the complex legal battle shaping up in
New Orleans. These senators want something to
happen now, and they have "directed" the CPSC "to
expedite its investigation and testing "of the
drywall products in question ... and to carry out
the Chinese drywall investigation without delay".
The senators wrote:
Since 2006, more than 550 million
pounds of drywall have been imported from the
People's Republic of China. On May 21, 2009, the
Commission's Director of the Division of Health
Sciences testified that since December 22, 2008,
the Commission has received over 320 complaints
about problems associated with drywall from
China. The Director stated that these complaints
include: structural effects on homes, such as
metal corrosion in air conditioning units,
copper pipes and electrical wiring; as well as
health effects on homeowners, such as
unexplained nosebleeds, insomnia, skin
irritation and asthma. These complaints have
been lodged by homeowners in 16 states and the
District of Columbia.
a one-day conference was held in New Orleans
entitled, "Chinese Drywall Litigation". Dozens of
lawyers and experts were in attendance. One of the
speakers, Dr Patricia Williams, is a leading
toxicologist and president of Louisiana-based
Environmental Toxicology Experts, LLC. She is also
an associate professor at the University of New
Orleans, and she has been hired by two law firms
to help represent their clients who are plaintiffs
in the above-mentioned lawsuits.
finds many things unusual with the drywall
imported from China.
generates a continuous release of particles.
Residents complain of copious amounts of dust that
when removed from surfaces reappears in a few
hours. Smoke alarms are set off frequently in the
same houses due to the dust particles that
circulate in the ambient air," said Williams.
Another problem, according to Williams, is
that "Chinese drywall has a filler that contains
concentrated heavy metals from a coal source.
Analytical chemists are evaluating the filler and
possible coal sources are coal mining wastes
and/or coal fly ash. These heavy metals are toxic
and when inhaled can concentrate in the body.
Strontium is one of the concentrated heavy
"Strontium is believed to be
responsible for the release of the sulfurous gas
emissions. The most commonly detected sulfur
compounds that are emitted include: carbon
disulfide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide.
The concentration of strontium is two-10 times
greater in Chinese drywall samples that have been
tested by our analytical chemist than in US
drywall," added Williams. "US drywall is free of
sulfur compounds and does not emit these gases."
Besides the CPSC, which has been named as
the lead US federal agency for this investigation,
the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is
also active, working with both the CPSC and the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(CDC-ATSDR). According to an EPA analysis
conducted earlier this year at the request of the
CDC-ATSDR, "sulfur was detected at 83 parts per
millions (ppm) and 119 ppm in the Chinese drywall
samples. Sulfur was not detected in the four
US-manufactured drywall samples ... Strontium was
detected at 2,570 ppm and 2,670 ppm in the Chinese
drywall samples. Strontium was detected in the
US-manufactured drywall at 244 ppm to 1,130 ppm."
What concerns Williams is that the general
public does not have a good understanding of the
threat posed by this drywall.
public as well as some of the residents in the
houses with the drywall do not understand the
acute and chronic health effects of the gases and
particles released by the drywall as well as the
safety risks of the sulfurous erosion of
electrical wiring," said Williams. "The health
effects range from acute exposure irritation
effects to chronic exposure systemic effects such
as asthma attacks, stroke, neurological damage,
Parkinson disease, lung damage, and much more."
Williams points to other possible
toxicants that are known to occur in incinerated
coal sources that have not yet been tested for in
the Chinese drywall. These include Polycyclic
Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), and radioisotopes
such as Radium 226, which are known to occur in
coal mine waste and coal fly ash.
bleaching process, as well as uncontrolled
incineration of coal sources, can generate
chlorinated compounds, such as dioxins or
chlorinated PAHs. These chemicals have not yet
been fully investigated," said Williams.
In November 2006, a team from the
Arkansas-based Center for Toxicology and
Environmental Health (CTEH), conducted its own
analysis of air samples taken from homes in
Florida where Knauf Tianjin gypsum plasterboard
had been used to see if "the measured compounds
posed an unacceptable public health risk".
"The testing revealed that the Knauf
Tianjin product released low levels of certain
naturally-occurring sulfur-containing compounds.
Testing of the bulk material revealed the likely
source of these compounds was a sulfur-containing
mineral known as iron disulfide. One of the other
two products manufactured in China presented a
similar odor and also contained the iron disulfide
mineral," reported the CTEH team.
the team concluded that, "measured concentrations
of the detected chemicals in air were not present
at levels that present a public health concern".
This finding came despite the fact that, "certain
naturally-occurring sulfur-containing compounds
can be emitted from the Knauf Tianjin product at
concentrations higher than present in background
The looming legal battle is likely
to be a protracted and hotly contested showdown.
Attempts by Asia Times Online to reach both German
and Chinese company were unsuccessful.
According to Jack Landskroner, a managing
partner of the Cleveland law firm Landskroner
Grieco Madden, which is representing one of the
plaintiffs, nobody has any idea as to the actual
number of homes that might be affected, let alone
how much money is involved.
"We know that
some of the builders are estimating that a minimum
remediation effort will cost at least $75,000 per
home with an approximate square footage of 2,000.
The cost will go up from there based on square
footage and the adequacy of the remediation being
suggested," said Landskroner.
observers see this base estimate as extremely
conservative, and do not rule out the possibility
that a figure twice as big may emerge over time.
This possibility cannot be dismissed entirely
given the fact that this estimate simply includes
materials, fittings and certain items in the home.
It does not include health care costs and other
expenses incurred by the people living in the
Although all the class action
lawsuits have now been consolidated for the
purposes of preliminary management in front of one
judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana, it is
too early to discuss any timetable or schedule as
this case was just assigned to the judge in New
"He will likely be holding a
hearing in the next few weeks to discuss with the
lawyers how the case will proceed," said
Scheduling aside, Landskroner
contends that "the claims of our clients are
meritorious and that we will obtain a fair and
adequate recovery on their behalf by way of an
agreed to settlement with the defendants or by way
of judgment should the builders and manufacturers
choose not to adequately address their culpability
to these homeowners. Our clients paid premium
prices to purchase their dream homes and instead
they are now suffering the effects of bargain
basement materials used by the builders which
continue to [affect] their property and may also
have long term effect on their health."
One resident of Fort Myers, Florida,
described the Chinese drywall affair as "huge",
but went on to add that while many builders and
small businesses in the US would end up in very
bad shape - if not out of business entirely - as a
result of this situation, "the big guys" overseas
named in the lawsuits would likely emerge without
a scratch. Others wonder how US homeowners might
be compensated for all the damages they may have
suffered as a result. Can the foreign companies in
question be compelled to mail checks to US
homeowners? Many think not.
company involved in this matter as well as the
German company have both been named as defendants
in our lawsuits. We are in the process of having
them served with copies of the lawsuits and expect
that they will be party to this litigation," said
One Republican Louisiana
state senator said what is unfolding here is
tantamount to Chinese companies dumping "toxic
waste" between two sheets of paper and exporting
it to the US as drywall. Still, an effort during
the latest session of the Louisiana state
legislature to provide some form of relief to the
state's affected homeowners went nowhere.
The consolidation of the lawsuits and the
mounting pressure from the US Congress on the CPSC
will no doubt bring additional publicity. Yet
there are no assurances that demonstrations of
concern and greater media scrutiny will bring any
relief to thousands of irate US homeowners.