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Extent of Chinese Drywall Problem Likely Underestimated

Dec 2, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Advocates for Chinese drywall victims are insisting that federal regulators have underestimated the true scope of the problem.  According to a report in the Miami Herald, lawyers for Chinese drywall claimants believe that questions regarding the actual number of U.S. homes built with defective drywall will only be resolved in the course of lawsuits now making their way through federal court in New Orleans.

So far, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has received 2,091 reports from residents in 32 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico concerning Chinese drywall.  Gases emitted from Chinese drywall are being blamed for significant property damage, including damage to HVAC systems, smoke detectors, electrical wiring, metal plumbing components, and other household appliances. These gases also produce a sulfurous odor that permeates homes, and cause metals, including air conditioning coils and even jewelry, to corrode. People living with Chinese drywall have also suffered eye, respiratory and sinus problems that may be linked to the gases.

Tests recently released by the CPSC of 51 homes confirmed that the presence of hydrogen sulfide is the essential component that causes copper and silver sulfide corrosion found in Chinese drywall homes.

Since the Chinese drywall scandal first broke, various media outlets have reported that the tainted wallboard could have been used to build 100,000 U.S. homes.  That number was based on a couple of factors, including import and shipping records.  According to the Herald, by the CPSC's own count,  7 million boards of drywall were imported from China to the during building and post-hurricane reconstruction boom.  If all of that wallboard was used, and all of it was defective, the 100,000 number makes sense.

According to the Miami Herald, the CPSC - which has logged just over 2,000 drywall complaints - says the 100,000 number is too high.  But advocates for drywall victims say the CPSC is off - by a lot.  For one thing, lawyers for victims say the number of calls they have received, and continue to receive, about Chinese drywall indicate the problem is much more far reaching than the CPSC's estimates indicate.  

They also point out that in many areas of the country where Chinese drywall was used, the problem may have yet to manifest itself.  For now, most complaints have come from states in the southwest, like Florida and Louisiana, where high rates of humidity encourage the material to emit sulfur gases.  
 
Also, some homeowners may be reluctant to report their drywall problems to the CPSC.  In some instances, homeowners  fear losing insurance coverage over a drywall problem, or they have already accepted a builder's offer to replace the material for free, the Miami Herald said.

Even the CPSC acknowledges that it has not heard from every homeowner in the U.S. who is experiencing a drywall issue.  Meanwhile, an attorney representing Chinese drywall victims told the Herald that the much larger estimate will be proven valid during the first drywall-related trial that is scheduled to begin in late January in New Orleans federal court.


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