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Chinese Drywall Could Be Radioactive

Jul 6, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Following an investigation into problems with drywall made in China, some experts believe that defective Chinese drywall may be radioactive. Just last week we wrote that a group of officials from China came to the U.S. to investigate the ongoing problems with drywall made there.

Also as of last week, we wrote that the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) received more than 500 complaints from people in 19 states, as well from the District of Columbia, involving Chinese drywall. Homeowners living with the material have reported that it fills homes with a putrid, “rotten-eggs” odor and cause metals—such as in wiring, electrical outlets, and air conditioning and even jewelry and silver utensils—to corrode. Some have complained of sinus and respiratory problems that occur while they are in their homes. Many families have had to leave their homes and, in most instances, buildings must be gutted and the drywall replaced to fix the problem.

According to a prior report on, regulators from the General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (ASIQ) arrived in this country the week of June 15 and have met with U.S. regulators, visiting at least two states to examine homes built with Chinese drywall.

The LA Times explained that the end of the housing boom in this country, coupled with the catastrophic Gulf Coast hurricanes created the perfect situation under which Chinese drywall makers could prosper. Because U.S. suppliers were unable to meet demands, Chinese competition increased “17-fold in 2006” from 2005, said the Times.

Officials have been unable to find a cause for the problem; however, according to a report by the LA Times, some experts from China believe that a radioactive phosphorus substance called phosphogypsum might be to blame. Of note, phosphogypsum has been banned for construction use in the U.S. but has been in use by Chinese manufacturers for nearly a decade, said the LA Times. The Times also confirmed that, based on copies of Chinese customs reports and interviews it obtained, drywall manufactured with phosphogypsum was shipped to the U.S. as recently as 2006 by no less than four “Chinese-based manufacturers and trading firms,” said the Times.

Although phosphogypsum’s health effects are unclear, experts are concerned over both its broad use and that it was exported, especially given the flood of recent recalls and problems with Chinese-made food and consumer products, noted the Times. Considering the fact that phosphogypsum can cause corrosion, something should be done," said Ding Dawu, a geoscientist and an authority on gypsum processing in China, quoted the Times. Phosphogypsum contains radium which, over time, can increase lung cancer risks, which led to its being banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in construction in 1989.

A waste byproduct found in some mines in China, phosphogypsum is being likened to the melamine scandal in China in which the toxin, melamine, was mixed with food products to increase protein levels and which led to massive illnesses and some deaths due to poisoning of animal feed and baby formula. "From China's customs side, there is no special inspection of exported drywall," said Sun Yong, Beijing Building Materials’ vice president. That company shipped almost 38 million pounds of drywall to the U.S. in 2006, said the Times.

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