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First Chinese Drywall Test Results Released, But CPSC Says More Study is Needed

Oct 29, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Preliminary results from the  first round of Chinese drywall tests conducted by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) have revealed that the wallboard emits volatile sulfur compounds at a higher rate, and contains higher levels of sulfur and strontium, than domestically-made drywall samples.  

But according to The Wall Street Journal, CPSC officials say they will need to conduct more studies before they can determine whether or not these differences are contributing to health problems or metal corrosion reported by Chinese drywall homeowners.  The  testing results are to be discussed at a news conference later today, and according to the Journal, officials are expected to caution that the results are early stage and could change.

The CPSC has received about 1,897 reports from residents in 30 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.

According to a press statement released by the CPSC, initial results of three studies that compared Chinese and domestic wallboard are as follows:

  • Elemental and chemical testing revealed the presence of elemental sulfur in Chinese but not in non-Chinese drywall, and it also shows higher concentrations of strontium in Chinese drywall than in non-Chinese drywall. Testing conducted over the summer by federal and state agency radiation laboratories found no radiation safety risk to families in homes built with manufactured drywall. According to the press statement, the strontium found in this drywall does not pose a radiological risk.
  • Chamber studies conducted by nationally-respected Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) show that Chinese drywall emits volatile sulfur compounds at a higher rate than the U.S. made drywall. More tests and analyses are underway at LBL to determine the specific chemical compounds that are being emitted, the CPSC said.
  • Indoor air studies of 10 homes in Florida and Louisiana found that sulfur gases were either not present or were present in only limited or occasional concentrations inside the homes, and only when outdoor levels of sulfur compounds in the air were elevated.  The indoor air study did lead to a preliminary finding of detectable concentrations of two known irritant compounds, called acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. These irritant compounds were detected in homes both with and without Chinese drywall, and at concentrations that could worsen conditions such as asthma in sensitive populations, when air conditioners were not working or turned off.

According to the CPSC, the initial indoor air studies were conducted on a small and limited sample of homes in order identify and measure contaminants and to inform the development of a federal and state indoor air testing protocol.

Next month,  the CPSC said it will  release  results of a 50-home indoor-air-testing study.  The results of that study, together with those released today, will help to develop a final standard federal and state protocol for testing homes and to identify a nexus between the presence of Chinese drywall and the reported health and corrosive issues, the agency said.

In November, the CPSC also expects to release a preliminary engineering analysis of potential electrical and fire safety issues related to the corrosion seen in homes with Chinese drywall.

The CPSC investigation is being aided by other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Florida Department of Health.

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