July, 2009
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Link to Corrosion, Health Problems Elusive, but Federal Chinese Drywall Sampling Protocol May Be Near

EDITED BY ASHI STAFF

Although federal and state agencies are rapidly expanding their investigations, none have been able to establish a definitive link between drywall and the conditions observed in houses, much less the health problems, widely attributed to drywall imported from China.

Yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds out hope for an indoor sampling protocol this summer.

The protocol time line was included in the EPA Drywall Sampling Analysis, published May 7, 2009. The sampling was done at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC-ATSDR). These two federal agencies are working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is the lead agency for this issue.

To gather more information, CDCATSDR asked the EPA to conduct an elemental analysis of Chinese drywall and compare it with drywall manufactured in the United States.

While the results identified some significant differences, the EPA concluded, “It is important to note that the analysis included a very small sample size, and the results of this testing may not be representative of all drywall products. The analysis was conducted to identify the elemental material contained in the drywall samples and is not itself intended to establish a definitive link between the drywall and the conditions being observed in houses.”

The agency promised it would continue to work with its federal and state partners to respond to growing consumer and industry concerns. The EPA is working with a multi-agency and state technical group to develop an indoor sampling protocol for use by CPSC and states to conduct indoor air testing in houses suspected of containing Chinese drywall. The group’s goal is to complete the protocol by June 30, 2009. The EPA expects that results from the indoor sampling will be evaluated by CDC-ATSDR for possible health implications.

CPSC Heads Up Federal Investigation

The CPSC states it is currently unaware of any definitive test to determine if a home has problem drywall, but that its investigation is proceeding simultaneously on the following three tracks:
  • Evaluation of the relationship between the drywall and the reported health symptoms;

  • Evaluation of the relationship between the drywall and electrical and fire safety issues in the home; and

  • The tracing of the origin and distribution of the drywall.
This investigation includes fieldwork focusing on a number of issues. The staff is contacting some consumers to discuss their particular drywall issues and exploring their experiences in more detail.

With the exception of Wyoming, CPSC field investigators are permanently stationed in the affected states and staff is being added to assist in the investigation.

To date, the CPSC has received over 365 reports from residents in 18 states and the District of Columbia who believe their health symptoms or the corrosion of certain metal components in their homes are related to the presence of drywall produced in China. State and local authorities also have received similar reports. The majority of the reports to the CPSC come have from consumers residing in the state of Florida, while others have come from consumers in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the District of Columbia.

Consumers largely report that their homes were built in 2006 to 2007, when an unprecedented increase in new construction occurred, in part, due to the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005.

Staff members are collecting samples of various drywall and degraded electrical components, and working to identify the links from foreign manufacturers to the U.S. consumers. One challenge has been figuring out how much problem drywall there is in any house, given that it is already installed, likely painted and may not be clearly marked. The drywall could fill the home or be just a few sheets.

The Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance joined the investigation when it opened hearings on imported drywall on May 21.

Floridashealth.com Speaks to Consumers

Because concerns about imported drywall first surfaced in Florida, Floridashealth.com was one of the first resources for consumers looking for information. The most recent postings on the Web site alert consumers about related scams. In Cape Coral, Fla., fraudulent health notices have been appearing on vacant and foreclosed homes. Earlier, the Florida attorney general warned residents to be alert to bogus sales pitches targeting homeowners. Test kits, costly home inspection offers, chemical cleaners and ozone generators are just some of the deceptive ploys that have appeared in parts of Florida.

According to the Florida Department of Health (DOH), “Currently there is no proven and effective treatment method other than removal and replacement of the suspected or known source material. Claims of treatment involving ozone, coatings, and air cleaners should be scrutinized for evidence of proven effectiveness. The DOH recommends against the use of ozone generators in occupied spaces, since ozone is a highly reactive and irritating molecule and is considered hazardous to people and pets. These products may make the problem worse.”

The DOH continues to be a resource for those looking for current information about the drywall in their homes. A self-assessment guide is available for consumers. It provides photographs to help homeowners look for signs of the type of corrosion being associated with the imported drywall and includes the suggestion that they hire a professional inspector, certified or licensed technical or licensed electrician to check for the distinctive corrosion. Go to www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/community/indoor-air/inspections.html.

Although the DOC and other agencies do not have data suggesting an imminent or chronic health hazard at this time, all are aware of the reported symptoms.


Sources


United States Environmental Protection Agency  Drywall Sampling Analysis
http://landrieu.senate.gov/news/09.05.19_EPA_Analysis.pdf

Floridashealth.com
http://www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/community/indoor-air/drywall.html