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Chinese Drywall: Florida Set to Test Air in Homes, Senator Seeks Task Force

Apr 20, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Florida Health Department said last week it would start testing air quality in homes built with defective Chinese drywall to determine if sulfur fumes emitted by the material pose any health hazard.  Meanwhile, a state senator has asked Florida's governor to set up a task force to take up the Chinese drywall issue.

Fumes emitted from Chinese drywall produce a “rotten eggs” odor and cause metals, such as air conditioning coils, to corrode. The fumes have also been associated with respiratory and sinus problems in some residents. In some homes, the drywall problems have been so severe that families have had to move, and some builders have begun gutting and replacing drywall in the buildings.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. imported roughly 5 million square feet of drywall from China during the housing boom from 2004 to 2008.  Estimates indicate the drywall may be in more than 100,000 homes, more than 35,000 in Florida alone.  The Florida Health Department has so far received 265 complaints regarding the toxic drywall.

While Florida has been ground zero for Chinese drywall complaints, homeowners in Virginia, as well people living in homes in Gulf Coast states - including some that were rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina - are also reporting problems. It seems the warm, humid climate in the south encourages the drywall to emit sulfur fumes. Some experts fear that in cooler, dryer areas of the country, it could be years before Chinese drywall causes problems.

In Florida, tests conducted by the state health department found that samples of Chinese drywall contained higher levels of sulfuric and organic compounds than an American-made sample. The Chinese samples contained traces of strontium sulfide while the American sample did not. Strontium sulfide is a gray powder that emits a hydrogen sulfide, or “rotten eggs,” odor when exposed to moist air. The three Chinese samples also contained higher levels of hydrogen sulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and carbon disulfide than the American drywall. All of these compounds are potentially toxic, and carbon disulfide in liquid form is extremely flammable.

It isn't yet known  if the Chinese drywall is emitting any of these fumes at levels high enough to impact health.  That is what the tests announced by the Florida Health Department are meant to determine.  According to the Associated Press, they are slated to begin in the next several weeks.  

A spokesperson for the health department told the Associated Press that the scheduled tests are complex and have never been done before. "This is new science, nobody has tested drywall like this," he said.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Business Journal is reporting that Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, has sent a letter to Governor Charlie Crist asking him to appoint a task force to address the drywall issues.  Aronberg said he wants the task force to include building industry members, scientists, health experts and consumers to get a handle on how big the drywall issue is in the state and what government may need to do to address it.

Aronberg told the Business Journal that the task force would focus on protecting consumers who have bought homes with defective drywall or are considering a home that may have the imported drywall installed.  It would also  address the needs of the builders and domestic manufacturers of the drywall, as both could suffer as a result of the problem.

While Crist has not yet responded to Aronberg's letter, the Senator told the Business Journal that he would like to see the task force in place sometime in the coming weeks.


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