Guest commentary: Take action against hazards of Chinese drywall

Starting in the mid-1990s, China imported large quantities of pristine American drywall to satisfy its huge demand. This created shortages here. Importers responded with Chinese-made drywall that the Chinese market wouldn’t buy.

Our building industry welcomed this wallboard. No one said, “Hey! Why is China buying our drywall and sending us theirs? Something doesn’t smell right!”

And it didn’t. Now, flatulent drywall is headline news. And homeowners brace for yet another building bungle. Our gypsum wallboard (aka drywall) is made to exacting standards, passes rigorous tests and performs as promised. But U.S. drywall is easy to fake in a country of low standards and few ethics.

Thousands of U.S. homeowners suffer from this. Some know they have it, many don’t.

Telltale toxic-air symptoms are: sulfurous odor, nosebleeds, headache, copper pipe damage and corrosion, mirror blackening, tarnished metals, unexplained health issues, pet mortality and child sickness.

Lawsuits fly. Labs test. Experts prepare to muddy the water. Builders admit they haven’t contacted affected homeowners yet “because we don’t have the answers.” (Daily News, Sept. 27).

Simply put, no forensic analyses on sick drywall can be conclusive with so many variables. Aren’t there still arguments over smoking and lung cancer? For me, if this looks like a duck …

What can be done? If your home is sick, or has sick symptoms, the problem won’t go away. It will probably devalue your already value-depressed home by another 40 to 50 percent when you sell. Can you conceal your toxic drywall when you sell? Ask any broker about the risks of concealment. Doing nothing is a poor option.

But you can do a few things. Here they are in order of benefit.

n Improve your interior air quality. Breathe good air inside your home by bringing in fresh air, maintaining positive inside air pressure, installing serious air filtration. See the Conditioned Air Web site for more on these.

n Fresh air. Recent Florida homes are the tightest on the planet. Most also have poor air quality. Why? There is no code requirement for fresh air in homes.

n Draw substantial fresh, controlled air into your sick home. This costs between $2,000 and $4,000, according to Theo Etzel, president of Conditioned Air. “Pre-conditioned fresh air helps dilute off-gassing and improves the quality of air inside the home.”

Can’t people just open a window? My short answer is “no.”

n Positive air pressure. Properly adjusted, your fresh-air intake system will help create positive air pressure inside. Increased interior pressure moves gas and vapor outside, including gas trapped inside your walls.

n Serious air filtration. Most people think the air filter they seldom change is meant for them. “This thin filter mainly protects equipment, not people,” Etzel says. A thick (five inches or more) filter will help trap minute particles like pollen, mites and mold spores.

n Monitor your house. Toxic drywall off-gassing often attacks metals, especially copper. This means performing regular semi-annual AC, electrical and plumbing inspections. Polish your silver and replace your blackened mirrors since these will tell you at a glance how your environment is doing. Keep a small notebook of what’s happening inside.

n Prod government. This is a health and safety issue. Could it be a declared national health issue by the surgeon general? Possibly. Can the federal, state or local governments restrict the use of undocumented wallboard? Maybe. Will toxic wallboard be declared “hazardous” and like asbestos be banned from landfills? Probably. Should you press for public action? Absolutely.

n Hope for the best. Don’t expect a cash settlement or government help soon. More will be published on your health risks and defensive moves.

n Join in a class-action lawsuit and wait. Someone may develop air-monitoring equipment. Beware of those offering “cures” because there really aren’t any short of a new interior which, by the way, costs less than a 40 to 50 percent property value hit.

Are the defenses suggested here worth doing? You judge. Google “Chinese drywall problems” for 360,000-plus hits. Is there a physician out there who says do nothing until the blame for this gets placed? Too bad this happened. What’s next?

Selck is a Naples architect and a frequent contributor. He can be reached at See the Conditioned Air Web site at for information on improving interior air quality.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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