5 facts about 'toxic drywall'

Financial assistance available to qualifying homeowners

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 23, 2010

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Financial assistance available to qualifying homeowners

Mary Umberger
Inman News

The term "toxic drywall" popped up on the news radar in 2008, when homeowners in Florida started to get attention over their complaints that their homes smelled like rotten eggs.

It was even worse than a lousy smell, many complained: Their household wiring was turning black, as were their air-conditioners' evaporator coils, rendering them useless. Others said they had to move out because the odor in the homes was making them sick.

Federal and state investigators started looking into the complaints, which came mostly from Florida and the Atlantic Coast, though homeowners from as far away as California and South Dakota have contacted the federal government with their concerns about the unpleasant smells.

The investigators pinpointed a primary culprit: drywall manufactured in China and installed at the height of the housing boom, primarily in 2005 and 2006, though wallboard from other sources and other years also may be tainted, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Identifying the problem may be the easy part: Remedying it may require drastic actions.

Five things to know about problem drywall:

1. So far, the CPSC has received complaints from 3,300 homeowners in 37 states, according to Patty Davis, a spokesperson for the government organization. Most of those complaints came through a commission hotline -- (800) 638-2772 -- or through its website, www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/drywall.aspx.

"We're continuing to encourage consumers who feel they have the problem to contact us," Davis said. "We've been working to get a handle on the scope of the problem."

"It's important for our investigation protocol, and it can help the homeowner decide if they have problem drywall or not," she said.

2. The smelly drywall's effects on human health haven't been firmly established, Davis said.

Residents of homes with the problem drywall have complained of bloody coughs and bloody noses, eye irritation, insomnia, rashes, upper respiratory problems and headaches.

3. CPSC says the first step in identifying problematic drywall is to confirm that it meets two criteria: A visual inspection must show blackening of copper electrical wiring and/or air-conditioning evaporator coils, and the drywall must have been installed between 2001-08.

Since it's possible that corrosion can occur for other reasons, homes with drywall installed from 2005-08 must meet two of the four following criteria to be considered problematic:

  • The metal corrosion in the home must match specific chemical analysis;
  • Certain chemical markers must be found in the drywall;
  • Certain markings must be on the drywall;
  • Specific chemical emissions from the drywall must be detected.

Homes with new drywall installed from 2001-04 must meet all four of these requirements.

CPSC's protocol to help identify problem drywall is at http://www.cpsc.gov/library/foia/foia10/os/EHESourceMarkers.pdf.

Davis said homeowners with these issues typically complain of rotten-egg odor, though Davis, who has been in one home that contains the problem drywall, said the scent was more like a "burning-match smell."

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