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Community and Q&A

How can I be sure that the drywall my contractor will use on my home remodel will be safe?

GBA Editor | Posted in GBA Pro Help on

I live in Utah and I understand that EcoRock will not be available until the end of the year. Are there other choices of drywall that I can suggest to my contractor so I can have the confidence that the product will not make my family sick?


  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    I wouldn't hesitate to use gypsum drywall from U.S. Gypsum. Their flagship product — Sheetrock brand — has not been tainted by scandal. Although some investigators and lawyers are looking into drywall from other countries, the overwhelming majority of the reported problems stem from the use of Chinese drywall.

  2. Armando Cobo | | #2

    Most US manufacturers of gypsum board have products that are 90%+ synthetic gypsum (recycled vs. mined gypsum) and use recycled paper; some even have 100% recycled material. But it’s no just about the sheetrock, you must specify joint compounds, textures and finishes that are No/Low VOC as well.

  3. Riversong | | #3

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission of the CDC is coordinating information on the Chinese drywall problem:

    Normally, gypsum board is a benign material (and a good garden soil amendment), but the joint compounds are poly-vinyl chloride based and are toxic. There are natural alternatives to conventional joint compound, and the healthiest approach is to use natural clay plasters (such as American Clay which add negative ions to the living space.

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    According to Robert, joint compound is toxic — meaning poisonous. Details, please?

    1. Is it poisonous to those who eat it? How much do I have to eat to be poisoned?

    2. Is it poisonous to those who sit near it? How close do I have to sit?

    3. Is it poisonous to those who sand it? Because my nostrils have been completely clogged with white sanding dust from finishing joint compound for weeks at a time — over a period of many years — and by gosh I haven't yet noticed any of those poisoning symptoms.

  5. Riversong | | #5

    And grandpa said he's smoked cigarettes for 60 years and he ain't dead yet.

    Martin, I thought you believed in science instead of meaningless anecdotal evidence.

    A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has shown that "nuisance dust" from joint-compound mud used in drywall work can contain toxic materials. And, there can be dangerously high amounts of dust from sanding and other drywall work.

    NIOSH conducted a Health Hazard Evaluation of dust and toxic exposures to 10 renovation workers at 2 sites doing drywall finishing. Measuring the air the workers were breathing, NIOSH found 9 of 10 total-dust samples at higher levels than limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). More important, 2 of 13 samples of respirable (breathable) dust were above the limits OSHA says are safe. Two samples contained respirable silica. Silica can cause crippling and fatal lung diseases.

    "The health effects associated with long-term chronic airborne exposure to the dust or particulates generated during drywall sanding are not known," the report said, adding that even when the dust amounts are within recommended limits, they may not be safe. This is especially true, the report said, when parts of the dusts are known to have a "biologic effect."

    Besides silica, another material in the dusts that may be unsafe is kaolin. Found in clay, kaolin causes pneumoconiosis, or permanent lung damage.

    According to product MSDS sheets, joint compound may contain:
     Ethylene glycol
     Bentonite
     Calcium carbonate (Limestone)
     Water
     Hydroxypropyl distarch phosphate
     Solvent naphtha, petroleum, light aliphatic
     Acrylic acid polymer/copolymer
     Dolomite
     Mica
     Attapulgite
     Vinyl Alcohol Polymer
     Respirable Crystalline Silica (known carcinogen)
     Acetaldehyde (anticipated carcinogen)
     Vinyl Acetate Monomer (unlisted as carcinogen)

    From EPA: No information is available on the reproductive, developmental, or carcinogenic effects of vinyl acetate in humans. An increased incidence of nasal cavity tumors has been observed in rats exposed by inhalation. In one drinking water study, an increased incidence of tumors was reported in rats. EPA has not classified vinyl acetate for carcinogenicity.

    From MSDS

    Warning: This product contains one or more chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer.

    Acute Health Effects

    Inhalation: Vapor or mist can cause headache, nausea, and irritation of the nose, throat, and lungs. Preexisting respiratory, skin, or eye conditions may be aggravated by exposure to ethylene glycol.

    Skin Contact: Repeated skin exposure to large quantities may result in absorption of harmful amounts. The dermal LD50 has not been determined.

    Chronic Health Effects: Excessive exposure may cause central nervous system, kidney, blood, and possible liver effects.

  6. user-958947 | | #6

    Can someone provide an update on purchasing "safe" drywall? I understand not to buy from China, and possibly other foreign countries that might sell rotten egg smelling drywall.. But now there is concern about US manufacturers using coal-fired boiler refuse with high mercury content.
    I'll soon be drywalling a new house, and would like to get it right the first time.
    Any advice on how or from whom to purchase good clean drywall would be appreciated.
    Hopefully there are more choices than either smelling bad or becoming mad as a hatter.
    What about Canada and Mexico?

  7. user-831496 | | #7

    In addition to the above question I would like to ask if anyone can recommend a safe, low voc joint compound.

  8. kevin_in_denver | | #8

    As far as EcoRock goes, they missed their "release date", which doesn't bode well.
    Forgetaboutit for the time being.

  9. gusfhb | | #9

    In my area blueboard/plaster is price competitive with drywall, sometimes cheaper. It is over in 1-2 days, although it puts a huge amount of moisture in the building as it sets.

    I think it is a higher quality finish, although it has more errr, character, even when done well.

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