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Health Alert: Toxic Chinese Drywall in Kansas?

By Pamela Jean
News | December 11, 2009

HAYS, Kan. - According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), some U.S. homes built or remodeled between 2001 and 2008 contain imported drywall, known in the press as Chinese drywall. The defective drywall gives off a toxic sulfuric gas that is thought to corrode metal components in homes and create health and safety problems for residents.

Some consumers who live in these homes have reported health and safety problems, including a strong sulfur smell, like rotten eggs; health issues, like irritated and itchy eyes and skin, difficulty breathing, a persistent cough and headaches; and premature corrosion or deterioration of certain metal components in their homes, like air conditioner coils and wiring behind electrical outlets and inside electrical panel boxes.

To date, the federal government has received 2,276 complaints of defective drywall from homeowners in 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. State governments and local authorities have received untold numbers of additional reports. No complaints have yet been verified in Kansas, but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would like homeowners to notify KDHE if they suspect that Chinese drywall may have been installed anywhere in Kansas.

2,100 citizen plaintiffs in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi have begun a class-action lawsuit against a Chinese manufacturer of drywall blamed for damaging homes and sickening residents. Dozens of homebuilders, remodelers, building suppliers and drywall distributors also are named as defendants.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will also soon issue guidelines on how homeowners with defective drywall can apply for federal money.

The House of Representatives passed a resolution to encourage banks and mortgage service providers to work with families affected by contaminated drywall and to allow temporary forbearance without penalty on payments on their home mortgages.

According to Dr. Patricia Williams, a University of New Orleans toxicologist, highly toxic compounds have been found in Chinese drywall and prolonged exposure to these compounds can cause serious problems. Strontium sulfide may be dangerous to developing children; it affects bone growth. Chronic exposure to these gases may affect the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, eyes, kidneys, liver and skin.

Infants, children, the elderly and infirm and pets may have an increased vulnerability to these gases and the particulates that are released from the drywall.

The particulates from Chinese drywall are believed to invade and adhere to other building materials in the home's structure and personal objects within the home. Cross-contamination is a real concern and may need to be factored into any remediation protocol.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found a strong association between Chinese drywall, hydrogen sulfide and corrosion of metals in homes.

The presence of Chinese drywall has been installed in between 65,000 to 100,000 homes nationally. 20 million square feet of Chinese drywall entered the U.S. since 2001.

The CPSC has requested the help of states, including Kansas, to gather information on any homes where concerns with Chinese drywall have arisen.

The FTC says homeowners should be on the alert for anyone trying to sell test kits, inspections, and quick fixes for tainted drywall. The Federal Interagency Task Force is studying testing and remediation protocols for affected homes, but no federally-approved testing kits or remediation methods currently exist.

For now, consumers are left to fend for themselves to determine if their homes and buildings contain Chinese drywall.

Kansas residents who have remodeled or built new homes in the last decade may wish to take a closer look at the new drywall. Some drywall from China is stamped with "Made in China" on the back. However, most Chinese drywall does not have a label or markings.

Not all homes will emit the characteristic sulfur smell as dry or cool climates or the use of other finishing materials may cause the smell to be undetectable by the consumer. If there is a smell, does it smell like rotten eggs, ammonia, mild fireworks or have a slight sweet smell? Is it more noticeable when entering your home and then seems to dissipate?

Since the smell may not be obvious, readers that are concerned will want to examine their drywall, plumbing, electrical outlets, and appliances as well as take note of their own health, allergies, and symptoms.

Experts are recommending that homeowners check in-wall wiring since Chinese drywall corrodes electrical wiring. By removing wall electrical plates, homeowners can check electrical receptacles in your walls to see if the wires are blackened.

Other electrical symptoms may include sparks anywhere in the home electrical system, dimmers and outlet covers that are discolored from overheating, or the smell of overheating plastic.

Homeowners, building owners, or occupants in most cases will have seen continuous failures of their air conditioning coils, or HVAC units beyond anything normal. Homeowners should check the cooper coils on their air conditioning units to see if the copper coils have turned black, or a grayish black.

Copper plumbing and other copper fixtures should also be examined for corrosion. Oven, or stove elements, or refrigerator coils may have failed in homes.

Consumers have reportedly also discovered that computer, TV sets, radios, DVD players, smoke detectors microwave information display panels may have failed in homes, where the toxic Chinese drywall is present.

Even if none of the characteristics described above are noted, consumers should consider taking a closer look at their newly installed drywall if they suffer allergies, nose bleeds, upper-respiratory problems and other symptoms that disappear when they leave the homes for an extended time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, residents who suspect they are experiencing physical symptoms should go outdoors to get fresh air. Scientists do not know what, if any, benefit there is to opening windows to allow fresh air to come into the home. Residents should their doctors if their are experiencing health problems.

The CDC says, that patients should tell their doctors "that you are concerned your illness might be related to imported drywall." The CDC also offers this fact sheet to provide to the health care provider. The CDC also published this executive summary in November 2009.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is now working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to identify any Kansas homes where Chinese drywall may have been used.

Any Kansas homeowners who believe they may have problem drywall are asked to report it to KDHE's Bureau of Environmental Health by e-mailing BEH@kdheks.gov or calling (785) 296-5606 or 1-866-865-3233. Homeowners can also contact CPSC by calling 1-800-638-2772 or logging on to CPSC.gov. Some may be hesitant to report because they are afraid their insurers will drop their coverage, these reports can be made confidentially.

Readers can learn more about the federal government's drywall investigation at drywallresponse.gov. Readers can also call the Homeowners Consumer Center anytime at 866-714-6466, or contact the group via their web site.

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