Problem drywall is a problem that isn't going away. As of 2015, over 4,000 homeowners have reported that drywall imported from China has caused health problems and metal corrosion in their homes, according to the CDC. The contaminated drywall has high levels of sulfur, which may be responsible for a rotten egg smell in affected homes, blackened or corroded pipes, failure of air conditioners and other household appliances, and health problems such as asthma, coughing, headaches, sore throats, and irritated eyes.
Most of the contaminated drywall was installed in 2006 and 2007 following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when a spike in home construction caused a shortage of drywall made in the United States. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has received complaints from homeowners in 44 states, although the bulk of reports come from Florida and several other states in the south.
This article discusses the major complaints associated with China-manufactured drywall, legal claims based on drywall problems, and what you should do if you think you have contaminated drywall in your home.
Homeowners with contaminated drywall usually notice:
The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued guidelines for identifying contaminated drywall. The guidelines recommend a two-step process: first a threshold inquiry and then, if the threshold is met, a further investigation seeking corroborating evidence.
In order to meet the threshold inspection, homeowners must (1) have blackened copper electrical wiring or air conditioning evaporator coils, and (2) have had the drywall installed between 2001 and 2008.
However, because metal corrosion may be caused by many factors, the presence of blackened wiring in the home does not definitively point to contaminated drywall. For this reason, the CPSC advises homeowners and contractors to look for further evidence that drywall is the likely culprit.
According to the CPSC, contaminated drywall is indicated if two of the below corroborating conditions are present and drywall was installed between 2005 and 2008 -- or if four of the below corroborating conditions are present and the drywall was installed between 2001 and 2004:
To learn more about the CPSC guidelines -- including details about the tests and results -- visit the CPSC's Drywall Information Center at www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall/. The CPSC will revise the guidelines as more information becomes available.
Is Chinese drywall making you sick? Health problems that may be caused by contaminated Chinese drywall include:
Although scientific research has yet to document a definitive link between health risks and contaminated drywall, health advocates suspect a causal link does exist. That's because consumers report that symptoms disappear or lessen when they are away from the home, and then reappear or worsen when they are in the home. In order to establish causality, consumers must prove that their health problems are caused by the drywall and not by other factors. (To learn more about what plaintiffs must prove in a toxic tort case, see Nolo's article Toxic Torts: Legal Theories of Liability.)
Contaminated drywall may also cause property damage in homes.
Consumers allege that the contaminated drywall corrodes piping and wiring, which causes electronic devices and household appliances to work intermittently or fail completely. Examples of components and devices that may be affected by contaminated Chinese drywall include:
Homeowners affected by contaminated Chinese drywall may find themselves saddled with large remediation costs -- expenses incurred in removing the contaminated drywall and installing new, problem-free drywall. As of yet, there is no standard recommendation for remediation. For example, it is unclear whether removal of sheetrock is necessary to rid the home of problems associated with the contamination.
Not surprisingly, the market value often decreases in homes that have -- or are suspected to have -- contaminated Chinese drywall.