Stories about Chinese-made drywall that off-gasses hydrogen sulfide, corrodes metal fixtures, and appears to be making a lot of people ill are once again salting the news feeds.
Earlier this month, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development advised people whose home interiors were clad in the defective drywall to have that drywall replaced, along with any wiring or pipes that had been corroded by hydrogen sulfide. And last week, a federal district judge in New Orleans awarded $2.6 million in damages to seven Virginia families who sued Chinese state-owned drywall manufacturer Taishan Gypsum Company, which didn’t respond to legal filings in the case or appear in court to defend itself.
Touting a solution
Also, Sabre Environmental Services, a contamination and pollution cleanup specialist that has been pitching its system for pumping chlorine gas into afflicted houses, announced on March 31 that its research had identified the gas-producing bacteria colonizing the defective drywall (Thiobacillus ferrooxidans). This species of bacteria was abundant enough in each sheet of drywall, Sabre said, to generate significant levels of reduced-sulfur gas. The company says its chlorine gas treatment – which involves removing all personal items from the contaminated building and tenting the structure before the chlorine gas is pumped in – not only eliminates hydrogen sulfide’s rotten-egg odor but completely destroys the bacteria creating it.
Much of the tainted drywall was imported into the U.S. from 2004 to 2007, to help service the building boom, and its defects have since been fairly well documented. An article published on March 13 by the National Association of Home Builders, for example, cited the metal corrosion problem and several health complaints – “irritation in the upper airways, and nose and throat air passages; burning or stinging eyes and a running nose” – identified by Consumer Product Safety Commission researchers.
A excruciating wait
The owners of most the 2,900 or so homes clad in the tainted drywall, however, are still in the lurch, since they have yet to be compensated financially for a remedy. Bruce Hallock, vice president of Marsh’s Risk Consulting, told NAHB that replacing defective drywall and repairing any damage it may have caused can average about 50% to 55% of the cost of building new, including expenses for relocating the homeowners while the work is being done. So both homeowners and builders, many of whom have insurance policies with “pollution exclusions” that would deny coverage for tainted drywall, are closely following relevant court cases.
A ruling on one such lawsuit, Hernandez vs. Knauf, is expected soon, the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a recent story, which also notes that the case is being heard in New Orleans federal court by Judge Eldon Fallon, the same judge who ruled for the plaintiffs in the Taishan Gypsum case. However, unlike Taishan Gypsum, the defendant in the Hernandez case, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, has responded to U.S. lawsuits and is defending itself in the case.
Catherine Cahill, global managing director and leader of Marsh’s Global Product Risk Practice, told NAHB that one of the best things builders can do until the path to a legal remedy becomes clearer is to engage in “open, honest and direct communication with your homeowner.”
“Don’t stop talking with them,” Cahill advised. “This is an exercise in protecting the safety and security of people who trusted you in building them a safe home.”