Chinese Drywall: What Else is There?

Waypoint is able to perform Chinese drywall inspections. There are 2 approaches: the first is where we will visually inspect the areas that can be affected by this toxic drywall – mainly copper tubing and wiring, as well as check out the attic, the second approach is where we take at least on sample (a 4×4 piece of drywall) and send it off to a lab. This approach is quite costly, starting at $895 due to lab costs, but is still is less than others out there who are charging more than $1200.

Check out our Chinese Drywall information page and give us a call if you have your suspicions.

Update on the Chinese Drywall Issue

The issue continues to grow and fester. I would like to caution you about the testing that is going on. There is a $49 do-it-yourself test and other tests that only test for one element. A true test to determine the presence of harmful materials involves invasive and expensive procedures. Samples of the drywall and are removed and sent to a lab to determine if any number of these harmful elements are present. The following article is an update… I’ll keep posting them as they come in. Regards.

Chinese Drywall Problem Spreads Along Gulf Coast

Florida’s Chinese drywall problem continued to fester in late March and early April. And the defective drywall also has been cropping up in other Gulf Coast states, including Mississippi and Louisiana.

In Florida, Governor Charlie Crist has requested Federal help with investigations. In a letter to officials at the U.S. EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, Crist asked for technical assistance for the Florida Department of Health from Environmental Response Teams and Industrial Hygienists from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Florida is already beginning to learn more about the Chinese drywall on its own, however. The state sent four drywall samples to Unified Engineering, an Illinois consulting laboratory, for testing. According to the lab’s report, three Chinese drywall samples contained elevated levels of elemental sulfur and also an unusual sulfur compound, strontium sulfide.

Subjected to heat and humidity in a test chamber, the three Chinese samples emitted sulfur-containing gases: hydrogen sulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and carbon disulfide. An American-made drywall sample, manufactured by National Gypsum, also emitted those gases, the report said. However, it appears likely that the National Gypsum sample had been cross-contaminated by the other samples — the American drywall was removed from a home that also contained Chinese drywall, and the samples were shipped together to the lab in the same container, without measures to isolate them from each other.

Besides the mineral content differences, the Chinese drywall had another ingredient that made it different from the American drywall: a high proportion of organic matter. While the U.S.-made sample had negligible organic matter content, an ash test of the Chinese samples showed organic matter content of 5.6%, 6.5%, and 15.1%, respectively.

Louisiana’s Troubles

Florida appears to have been the biggest market for Chinese-made drywall in recent years. However, significant amounts were evidently shipped to Louisiana,Mississippi, and Alabama as well. In Louisiana, home inspectors Ron and Julie Hufft, of Abita Springs-based Colonial Inspection Services (985/875-7701), have sent samples for testing from a handful of houses. The homes showed the typical “red flags,” says Julie Hufft — corroded copper, drywall labeled as Chinese-made, and occasionally a sulfur odor. (“Many times, people are having to have their evaporator coils replaced several times in fairly new homes,” she says.) Testing by a Florida laboratory confirmed the homeowners’ suspicions, Hufft reports: the samples emitted the same gases found by Unified Engineering in official Florida state testing.

“Made in China” labeling from drywall in a Louisiana home. Source: Colonial Inspection Services, Abita Springs, LA (985/875-7701)

Gray-colored corrosion patina on a copper water supply line under a sink in a home with Chinese-made drywall. Source: Colonial Inspection Services, Abita Springs, LA (985/875-7701)

A bundle of gray copper ground wires in the electrical panel of a Louisiana home with Chinese-made drywall, showing gray-colored corrosion products caused by sulfur-containing gases. Source: Colonial Inspection Services, Abita Springs, LA(985/875-7701)

Louisiana building performance consultant Paul LaGrange has also seen the problem, and provides information for homeowners on his blog — including this photo of an evaporator coil showing the classic gray patina of sulfur-caused corrosion.

Copper tubing darkened by sulfur-caused corrosion, on an air conditioning evaporator coil removed from a Louisiana home containing Chinese-made drywall. The classic red flag for contaminated drywall is repeated failure of air conditioning coils within a short span of time. Source: Robert Lazaro Jr., LaGrange Consulting (www.lagrangeconsulting.com)

Julie Hufft cautions homeowners against relying on home air testing — especially tests that screen for just one gas. She says, “There are several sulfides. One of the misconceptions out there is that you are only dealing with hydrogen sulfide, but we have found at least five [sulfur compounds released by] this drywall.” Ambient air testing alone could provide a false reassurance, says Hufft: “Some people think they can go around with a hydrogen sulfide meter and do air quality tests. But you’re dealing with more than just hydrogen sulfide, and that’s all that meter is going to detect. So you have to sample the drywall and send it to an accredited laboratory and let them extract the sulfides from it. But the testing is extremely expensive.”

For homeowners who discover that they do have the contaminated drywall, says Hufft, the news can be devastating. “They’re completely broken,” she says. “This is a situation where people are having to decide that they have to leave their home — a home that they still have to pay a mortgage on. And these are, in many cases, people who have already lost everything they own from Katrina, and now are finding out that they are going to lose it again.”

Builders at Risk

Builders, remodelers, and even drywall contractors, of course, are also victims in the Chinese drywall story. As Hufft says, “It’s heartbreaking for them too, on a completely different level. Because they had no way of knowing — homeowners, builders, everyone is completely innocent. Who would have ever thought anything like this could happen?”

New Orleans attorney Scott Wolfe, whose law practice focuses on representing builders and contractors, has just opened a separate branch of the practice to address Chinese drywall issues. Wolfe’s blog on the topic is here.

Wolfe says builders, remodelers, and trade contractors have a direct legal responsibility to buyers of new homes under the state’s “New Home Warranty Act,” which specifies a five-year structural guarantee and a two-year guarantee for sub-systems such as plumbing and electrical systems. The warranty law applies only to new homes, he notes, not to, for example, Katrina-related rehabilitation work.

But Wolfe says ordinary tort and negligence claims could still leave builders on the hook for the drywall problem. And he says that if contractors know, or even suspect, that the drywall they used in past jobs could be contaminated, they take on a duty to warn the homeowners, and possibly to correct the problem. He recommends that contractors who think they might be exposed to liability should get legal help as soon as possible.

Will the Chinese Stonewall?

So far, responses from Chinese authorities to the drywall problem appear to be defensive. The Wall Street Journal’s “China Journal” blog cites comments by Xu Luoyi, head of the National Building Materials Industrial Technology Supervisory Research Center, who claims that the Chinese product has not caused any complaints in China, despite being extensively used there, including for construction of Olympic facilities. Luoyi reasons that climate issues may play a role.

Expanding trade with China in recent years has created a complex challenge for Western companies doing business there, particularly with regard to quality control and accountability. The problem is thorny enough that a London-based think tank and consultancy, the “Ethical Corporation Institute,” is offering a 795-Euro confidential briefing for global executives on how to address supply-chain corruption in their dealings with China.

In China, notes the summary, rules can be very sketchy: “Local [Chinese] business culture is traditionally based on relationships and often involves running businesses in partnership with family or friends – making related-party transactions, soft lending and non-contractual agreements the norm rather than the exception. This tradition, together with the endemic bribery and gift-giving which are still a major part of relationship-based business in China, despite government attempts to limit the practices, increases the challenges for multinational corporations tasked with meeting global compliance standards.”

So while the problem of analyzing the contaminants in the Chinese drywall may yield to laboratory techniques of U.S. government scientists, the question of how those ingredients found their way into the drywall — and of who is responsible — may be hidden in much murkier waters.

Chinese Drywall: Soon to be a Big Issue

We saw this article online and thought it important to share with you. We are in the process of being able to complete inspections to determine if your home has this toxic material as part of its drywall.

Original Source: Chinese Drywall Update

Concern Rises — and So Does the Hype

Florida’s contaminated drywall problem continues to make news across the U.S. While the scope and exact nature of the problem is far from clear, what is apparent is that builders around the country — and especially in Florida — cannot afford to ignore it.

Federal and state officials are investigating the problem, but so far have little if anything to say to the press. Consumer Products Safety Commission spokesman Joe Martyak confirmed on Friday that the CPSC has been looking into the Chinese drywall issue for “a couple of months now,” and said, “We have stepped up our activity.” The CPSC’s immediate goal, said Martyak, is “to identify what are the facts and what are the risks.” The agency’s focus is twofold, he said: “the health effects, and the safety risks of electrical corrosion.” On the ground, said Martyak, CPSC personnel are working in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Health. But he said the CPSC would not release more information yet about facts it may have already uncovered, “in order not to compromise the investigation or to impede its effectiveness.”

Keeping the Lid On?

According to a report in the Fort Myers News-Press (“Officials Withheld Chinese Drywall Alert,” by Mary Wozniak), U.S. EPA officials looking into the drywall situation, along with Florida officials, knew about the drywall problem as far back as August, 2008, but held back information from the public for months, even though there was essentially no government investigation to compromise. The News-Press learned of the coordinated efforts to manage the story from government emails obtained through a public records request under Florida’s Open Government and Public Records laws. (For more on Florida’s open government rules, which are based on the State Constitution, see the “Government in the Sunshine” website.)

According to the News-Press, the released emails “indicate the parties waited to coordinate with a homebuilder, Lennar, and its consultant [Tampa toxicologist Robert DeMott of Environ, on how and when to alert the public. One Environmental Protection Agency official even suggested television ‘Sweeps Week’ in November might be the time to tell the public, rather than acting independently from special interests and getting word to the public as soon as possible.” The News-Press website has posted 495 official emails.

While Lennar may have the government’s cooperation, the company is far from being the only builder affected by the Chinese drywall problem — or in need of help in managing it. According to attorney Jordan Chaikin of the law firm Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, “25 or 30” builders may have used the Chinese drywall during Florida’s recent boom years, beginning in 2004. (See archived coverage, including audio excerpts of an interview with Chaikin, at the Coastal Connection website.)

Chaikin’s firm is suing Chinese drywall manufacturers and importers, not builders, Chaikin said. However, the drywall mess is already spawning suits targeting builders: on March 17, the Miami law firm of Roberts and Durkee announced a class action lawsuit against national homebuilder Engle Homes, with four homeowner couples from the company’s Coral Lakes neighborhood in Cape Coral as named plaintiffs.

Watch Your Back

With the bad drywall rumored to be an endemic problem across the country in homes built since 2001, builders are advised to look into whether they might be exposed to the liability — and also consider whether they’re adequately protected against it. Attorneys Stephen Henning and Patrick Schoenburg, of Wood Smith Henning & Berman LLP, warned that some builders might find their insurers reluctant to tackle the potentially huge liability they could incur if the drywall issue continues to blow up.

“Insurance carriers may try to rely on broadly-written pollution exclusions in their policies to deny coverage to their insureds for Chinese drywall-related issues,” the attorney wrote in a press release. In a follow-up email, Schoenburg explained, “In response to new, potential large scale losses, such as the Chinese drywall situation, insurers have historically tried to limit their exposure, first by determining if existing exclusions apply, and then including additional exclusions in new policies. In regard to existing policy language, the pollution exclusion should be the starting point. However, we believe the pollution exclusion will more likely delay carriers in defending these claims, rather than allowing them to avoid coverage all together.”

Typically, Schoenburg said, courts have refused to interpret boilerplate “pollution exclusions” as applying beyond cases such as industrial pollution, sewage spills, etc. However, the point is debatable — which could give insurance companies some wiggle room, and buy them time to at least try to back out on builder clients who get sued over fume-emitting drywall. Said Schoenburg, “We want builders to prepare for this issue and not simply expect their insurance carriers to quickly step in and handle it for them.”

The bottom line, said Schoenburg and Henning, is that builders should act now to get their ducks in a row: “It is recommended that home builders that may have used Chinese drywall compile documents — such as subcontracts, purchase agreements, insurance policies, warranties and builders risk policies — in order to ascertain the extent of the potential problem and possible mechanisms of risk transfer.”

Who Let the Dogs Out?

The scope and severity of the contaminated drywall problem nationwide remains a matter of confusion. There is uncertainty over basic questions: How much of the Chinese drywall made its way into the country? Where has it been installed? How dangerous is it to human health?

Adding to the confusion is a barrage of publicity generated by a self-styled “consumer advocacy group” calling itself “America’s Watchdog.” In a series of press releases which have received some attention from the national press (including in USA Today), “America’s Watchdog” has made increasingly strident claims, calling the problem “1,000 times worse that [sic] they ever dreamed.” According to one release, “America’s Watchdog” had found the drywall in every U.S. state as well as Canada and Australia. The statement advised homeowners not to accept homebuilder fixes, saying that homes “might have to be bulldozed.” The drywall, according to the release, was potentially deadly and had already killed some people’s pets. And after spending a week in Florida, said the release, “We know more about the toxic Chinese drywall than any group, organization, or agency in the world.”

However, when pressed for documentation of these claims — which go far beyond claims made by attorneys in official court filings — Thomas Martin, listed as a press contact in the release, responded with a one-line email: “No one is going to have to wait very long. I don’t play poker, but I always have a better hand than what I show.” Asked to provide more information about his “consumer advocacy group,” Martin — who is listed on various websites as the founder and as the President of “America’s Watchdog” — declined to specify whether “America’s Watchdog” is a for-profit company or a non-profit, whether or not it is a corporation or has stockholders, how it is funded, or whether it has any vested interest in the drywall issue. Martin also declined to disclose his own education or background, whether or not he is an expert himself, or what experts he may be relying on — or to provide the name of even one other person associated with the “group” in any responsible capacity. Instead, Martin emailed simply, “What business is any of that of yours?”

Martin’s name and the phone number he supplies in press releases are associated with at least a half dozen websites and supposed organizations targeting various high-profile liability issues, including mesothelioma, mortgage fraud, and dangerous pharmaceuticals. None of the websites offers any expert credentials, any authoritative sources, any names other than Martin’s, or any information about who controls the organization and directs its activities. The street address of the self-described “Washington-based consumer advocacy group,” 5505 Connecticut Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., turns out to be a Mailboxes Etc. location. The “America’s Watchdog” website is registered to a free-lance graphic designer in Seattle, Washington. And after several invitations to produce some sort of bona fides, Thomas Martin has declined to offer Coastal Connection any reason to believe that “America’s Watchdog” is anything other than what it, on closer inspection, appears to be: A one-man publicity outfit looking to hitch a ride on a big breaking story.

Attorney Schoenburg had nothing in particular to say about “America’s Watchdog,” but he said the phenomenon of “one guy trying to make a buck from mass torts currently receiving media attention” was a familiar one in the legal trade. “We have seen the same phenomenon in regard to mold, multiple chemical sensitivity, breast implants, et cetera,” he said. “Most are fronts for steering business to plaintiff’s attorneys.”

As long as information from official investigations or the information generated by builders themselves are kept under wraps, however, Mr. Martin and his ilk will have the field to themselves. In the mean time, we’ll pass along any facts that come to our attention. For the time being, the official complaints are available from two Florida lawsuits: Lennar v Knauf and Allen v Knauf