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Chinese Drywall Samples Contain Sulfur, Acrylic Paint Compounds, EPA Says

May 20, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Tests on two small samples of  Chinese drywall performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detected three suspicious compounds in the samples.  These included sulfur and two organic compounds associated with acrylic paint.  Similar compounds were not found in four samples of American-made drywall, the EPA said.

Homeowners in several states have complained that Chinese-made drywall produces 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. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the U.S. imported roughly 309 million square feet of drywall from China during the housing boom from 2004 to 2007. While the first Chinese drywall complaints came from homeowners in Florida, it has become clear that the problem is a national one. Reports of defective Chinese drywall have now been recorded in Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

The Chinese drywall samples used for the EPA tests were obtained from a Florida home.  The domestic samples come from stores in New Jersey. 

According to the EPA, its analysis of the  material found  sulfur at 83 parts per millions (ppm) and 119 ppm in the Chinese drywall samples. Sulfur was not detected in the four US-manufactured drywall samples. The EPA also said its analysis detected two types propanoic acids in the Chinese samples, organic compounds usually found in acrylic paint.   Again, these were not present in the American wallboard.

The EPA also found the following in both American and Chinese drywall samples:

  • Strontium was detected at 2,570 ppm and 2,670 ppm in the Chinese drywall samples. Strontium was detected in the US-manufactured drywall at 244 ppm to 1,130 ppm.  Strontium compounds are used in making ceramics, pyrotechnics, paint pigments, fluorescent lights and medicine.
  • Iron concentrations of 1,390 ppm and 1,630 ppm were detected in the Chinese drywall samples and in the range of 841 ppm to 3,210 ppm for the US manufactured drywall samples. Additional drywall samples will be tested to determine whether the iron is present as oxide, sulfide or sulfate, the EPA said.

The EPA said further testing is needed to determine whether any of the substances identified in Chinese drywall  can be conclusively linked to damage seen in houses with the material and whether they are dangerous to humans. The EPA said it would continue to work  with other state and federal agencies to respond to the drywall issue.

In a press release issued yesterday, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) responded to the EPA's findings.  “We now know there are three things in there that aren’t in other drywall samples,” Nelson said in the release. “We’ve got the what, and now we need the why and how do we fix it? In the end, I think all this stuff is going to have to be ripped out.” Nelson said he and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will file an amendment to pending legislation to provide emergency funds for further investigation and continued testing.

Nelson sits on the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance, which has scheduled a hearing on Chinese drywall for tomorrow morning.  In addition to officials from several federal agencies, Nelson has been trying to line up affected homeowners to give first-hand accounts about their Chinese drywall ordeals.

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