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Rey S. Yang: Made in China: the Chinese drywall controversy

It’s The Law

Posted: December 3, 2009 8:41 p.m.
Updated: December 4, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Drywall is a common building material used to construct interior walls and ceilings. It is usually made of layers of fiberboard or paper, bonded to a gypsum plaster pressed between two thick sheets of paper, then dried in a kiln.

Between 2004 and 2009, the demand for drywall in the United States increased substantially due to the increase in demand for housing and the boom in home construction.

In addition, because of the rebuilding efforts resulting from nine hurricanes in Florida between 2004 and 2005, and substantial damage along the Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, domestic manufacturers and suppliers of drywall were unable to meet the demand in the United States.

To satisfy the excess demand for drywall in the United States, many building contractors turned to drywall manufacturers from overseas, mainly from China.

An analysis regarding drywall imports showed more than 550 million pounds of Chinese drywall was brought into the United States since January 2006, enough to build approximately 60,000 homes.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission has received various complaints from homeowners throughout the United States of itchy eyes and skin, sinus problems, nosebleeds, headaches, asthma and other health and safety concerns linked to Chinese drywall.

Some homeowners have described a “rotten egg” smell coming from the drywall, which grows in intensity with heat and humidity.

Others have also noted the presence of blackened and corroded copper pipes, wiring and air-conditioning coils.  

As a result of these complaints, the commission in early 2009 launched a formal investigation regarding the toxicity of Chinese drywall.

The problems with the Chinese drywall have been attributed to the use of fly ash in the product, which degrades in the presence of heat and moisture.

Drywall manufactured in the United States, however, also uses fly ash, although U.S. manufacturers argue their drywall is a cleaner finished product.

Federal product safety regulators, testing for volatile chemicals, have noted higher concentrations in emissions of sulfurous gases, carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide, hydrogen sulfide and strontium from the Chinese drywall.

In the United States, most complaints have come from places in the Southeast including Florida and Virginia, where a hot and humid climate contributes to releasing the emissions from the Chinese drywall.

Various Florida homeowners, who claim respiratory problems as a result of exposure to the emissions from Chinese drywall in their homes, have filed class-action lawsuits against general contractors, subcontractors and suppliers of drywall.

While many Chinese companies are suspected of manufacturing defective drywall, only Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd. has been positively identified as a manufacturer, primarily because Knauf prints its name on the back of its products.

Various reports indicate between January and September 2006, 52 million pounds of Knauf drywall were shipped to New Orleans.

Drywall may have the identity of the manufacturer and/or the location of its manufacture printed on the back. Chinese drywall may be marked “Made in China,” “China,” “Knauf Tianjin” or have no marking at all.

Many experts note that heat and moisture contributes to the degradation of Chinese drywall and causes the release of excess sulfurous gases carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide and hydrogen sulfide.

The release of these excess gases substantiate various homeowner claims of a rotten egg smell or corroded copper pipes, wiring and air conditioner coils in their homes — chemical processes indicative of reaction with hydrogen sulfide.

Given that the Chinese drywall may take time to degrade in areas which are not consistently dry and humid and given the rising claims from homeowners of defective drywall, there may be a future wave of potential construction defect claims from the use of Chinese drywall in California.

Rey S. Yang is a partner with Poole & Shaffery, LLP, a law firm which provides general counsel and litigation services to businesses, community associations and management personnel. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “It’s The Law” appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.


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