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Senate Chinese Drywall Hearing Yields Few Answers

May 22, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Lawmakers on a Senate subcommittee got to hear first-hand yesterday about problems associated with defective Chinese drywall.  Officials from federal agencies, including the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), as well as homeowners who are dealing with Chinese drywall in their homes, were among those who testified at the Senate's first-ever hearing about the growing, national problem.  Unfortunately, what senators heard often raised more questions than answers.

Homeowners in several states have complained that fumes from Chinese-made 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. 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 complaints about the material came from Florida, homeowners in many other states - including Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana  and North Carolina - have reported problems.

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released results of tests it conducted that compared Chinese drywall to American-made material. The tests found sulfur and two organic compounds associated with acrylic paint in the Chinese drywall that were not present in the American wallboard. The agency said more testing is needed to determine if any of the compounds found in the Chinese drywall are responsible for problems reported by homeowners.

The CPSC has been in Florida  testing homes with Chinese drywall.  But Lori Saltzman, a toxicologist with the CPSC, told senators that the agency has few answers as of yet.  According to, she said that people living with Chinese drywall in 16 states where problems had been reported had common health symptoms. She also said that some CPSC investigators had experienced similar symptoms when visiting affected homes in Florida. But the only advice Saltzman could offer these homeowners was to "consult with their physicians", said.

Saltzman also told senators that the CPSC was still trying to establish its overall testing protocol, and would have teams in Florida and Louisiana next month to do so.  A delegation from China will also be coming to the States as part of the investigation, Saltzman said.  She added that her team is also planning to go to China.

Dr. Michael McGeehin, with the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health, testified that the nose bleeds, sinus and respiratory  problems,  and other symptoms reported by homeowners could be the result of the compounds in the drywall.  According to,  McGeehin said such symptoms are similar to those found when sulfur compounds have contaminated industrial settings.

Several homeowners also testified, according to  Richard Kampf of Cape Coral, Florida said his family did not have time to wait for answers.  He said he and his family can't afford to leave their home if doing so means they must pay both rent and mortgage.

Some senators on the Subcommittee for Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance were clearly not happy with the lack of answers from federal officials, according to the South Florida Business  Journal. "We’ve got to figure out what in the world these people are gonna do,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida)  said. “They can’t afford rent and paying the mortgage if they are still living in the house.”

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