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May 2010

More details on the tainted Chinese drywall matter are starting to emerge

Check out this article, done by by Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica and Aaron Kessler of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Sapien and Kessler name names, and let's just say that builder WCI, drywall manufacturer Knauf, and drywall distributor Banner Supply don't look too good at the moment.

I'm sure glad that we still have investigative journalism, since it is abundantly clear that government—at all levels—is doing next to nothing about this massive problem.

One reason behind the gigantic dissatisfaction with government and incumbents is that most of us are paying big bucks in taxes, but are getting virtually nothing in return.

Your tax dollars at work (?) on Chinese drywall

On May 25th, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a news release entitled "CPSC Identifies Manufacturers of Problem Drywall Made in China."

Here are the first three paragraphs of the release:

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is releasing today the names of the drywall manufacturers whose drywall emitted high levels of hydrogen sulfide in testing conducted for the agency by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). There is a strong association between hydrogen sulfide and metal corrosion.

Of the samples tested, the top ten reactive sulfur-emitting drywall samples were all produced in China. Some of the Chinese drywall had emission rates of hydrogen sulfide 100 times greater than non-Chinese drywall samples.

"Homeowners who have problem drywall in their homes are suffering greatly", said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "I appeal to these Chinese drywall companies to carefully examine their responsibilities to U.S. families who have been harmed and do what is fair and just."

Testing data, representative of 30 different manufacturer/year of manufacture samples, showing emissions rates for hydrogen sulfide, carbonyl sulfide, sulfur dioxide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide, ethyl mercaptan, and carbon disulfide are presented in a chart issued on May 27th.

In terms of hydrogen sulfide emissions, the first American-made product does not appear until the 13th position on the list. CPSC is careful to label anything significant as "draft," implying that a final report will be issued, although I was unable to get any information on when that might happen.

Likewise, the agency uses the craven language "...strong association between hydrogen sulfide and metal corrosion," even though it is beyond any doubt that hydrogen sulfide, along with other compounds, is causing the corrosion problems observed in homes constructed with the tainted drywall.

Two big questions are raised by these "draft" findings...

1.     Three samples are presented from Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co., Ltd. The sample from 2005 tops the list with hydrogen sulfide emissions of 203.27 µg/m2/h (micrograms per square meter per hour).

But, the sample from 2009 does much better at 4.99, and the sample from 2006 is still a killer at 118.83.

Inasmuch as officials from China and the US met in Beijing to discuss problem drywall on May 24-25 (according to the news release), you would think that someone could have asked for an explanation of the radical improvements in Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Company's product. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that such details could go a long way in explaining what caused the problem in the first place.

2.     The press release proudly touts that "To date, CPSC has spent over $5 million to investigate the chemical nature and the chain of commerce of problem drywall." I would ask how much of this work has actually helped the affected consumer.

So far, the only items of any use to a consumer would be the agency's identification and remediation guidelines. Ironically, if the cost of developing these guidelines is included in the $5 million figure, it would be a pittance, since much of this material had been freely available, long before the CPSC published its version.

Moreover, the remediation guidelines are woefully incomplete in that they do not call for any sort of residual surface treatment to be done to the home before new drywall is installed. It is well known that the corrosion problems can reappear in new drywall if the underlying concrete and studs are not properly treated.

The agency alludes to this—weakly—but escapes making any judgment as follows...

The Task Force does not have a scientific basis for evaluating the need for such steps, but homeowners should consider these options as they seek to make an informed decision in their particular situation.

Can't CPSC do any better than the "We need more data" gambit?

A noted building materials consultant asked me why CPSC farmed out the lab work to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. I explained that the prestige of LBNL would prevent most people from criticizing the efforts. I guess I'm not "most people."

Methodology details on the LBNL efforts are provided in a report entitled "CPSC Staff Preliminary Evaluation of Drywall Chamber Test Results," from March, 2010. It is only in this document that one finds out that

Drywall samples provided to LBNL by CPSC were collected by CPSC staff from manufacturers, drywall suppliers and storage warehouses... These 30 drywall samples were not obtained from individual homes, and were unfinished...

Talk about starting off on the wrong foot. The problems caused by tainted drywall occur in houses, and not warehouses. Certainly it was easier to get the material from sources other than the affected private homes, but how representative would the samples be of the real world problems?

Good science requires that the samples chosen be representative of the problem being studied. To obtain them elsewhere was feckless, and betrays ivory tower/academic science at its worst.

Still, we have plenty of data, obtained at great expense. What can we do with it? I have no idea, so I posed that question to the agency. Hold onto your hats for the reply.

We're hoping that the release of this information (the drywall emission rates) will encourage the Chinese government to come to some settlement with the affected American consumers.

You can't make this stuff up.

In the meantime, neither CPSC nor any other agency has addressed the number one issue. Since 95 percent of affected homeowners cannot afford remediation, are there alternative measures that can be taken?

Don't hold your breath for any official body to step forward on that one.

The strange history of DDT

If you've ever wondered how a chemical that earned the 1948 Nobel Prize could get blacklisted two decades later, you have to read The Excellent Powder: DDT's Political and Scientific History. Authors Donald Roberts and Richard Tren, of the group Africa Fighting Malaria, have done a superb job, and have somehow made the book suitable for the techie and layperson alike.

You'll read about the incredible junk science put forth by St. Rachel Carson, and the shameless posturing against this compound by elite journals such as Science. Meanwhile, millions of Africans were dying, but according to evil hacks like Paul Ehrlich, that was just fine.

If banning DDT is what founded the modern environmental movement, then it was founded on a gigantic lie. Read my book review in Health News Digest.

In anticipation of the e-mails: She is "Saint" Rachel since even though most Greens with a science background now acknowledge that her anti-DDT screed was complete nonsense, she has attained such iconic status that it doesn't matter. Yes, yes, I realize that the use of "Saint" is theologically incorrect, as all canonizations are infallible and go through an extensive vetting process, which our secular Saint Rachel did not—until it was too late.

Robin Hood

Unfortunately, this was a big disappointment. Those who think that Ridley Scott can do no wrong will be forced to reconsider.

If movies are now geared to 17-year-old boys, Scott wouldn't be happy to know that most of the ones I saw were text-messaging during this largely boring pic. Read my complete review, which skewers some of the revisionist PC in this feature.

The 2008-2009 Annual Report from the President's Cancer Panel: Your tax dollars totally wasted

If you ever had any doubt that even a worthy mission such as fighting cancer could be undermined by political correctness, you need only read small sections from this ridiculous document.

This utter bilge has been condemned by virtually every single cancer authority—not to mention my friends at... and the American Council on Science and Health.

To produce a 240-page document that raises environmentally-induced cancer to anything more than minuscule importance is positively shameful, and this panel—consisting of two whole people—should be condemned, nay mocked by the scientific community.

To the clueless LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., M.D., F.A.C.S. and Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D. I would say this:

The only proven cancer risk from chemicals derived from a very small number of cases of heavy occupational exposure, and this was pre-OSHA, of course. Almost nothing in your absurd report can be backed up, and the production of this document should force both of you into immediate retreat from public life.

More than that, you have discredited the work of every agency currently in place that, if anything, has gone overboard to limit exposure to toxic chemicals.

This is truly a disgrace, and you both richly deserve all the negative feedback.

The unjustified Facebook-fueled attack on Pampers Dry Max

It would be too easy to dismiss all this as a load of crap, but when you consider the broad media coverage given to a minute number of complaints on the product, is there a better descriptive phrase?

My latest HND piece takes a hard look at the complaints logged by some parents on the new diaper formulation, and suggests that empowerment of the clueless by social media might not be a good thing. Very telling is that Procter & Gamble is logging the same number of complaints (and that's a scant few) as it did with the old formulation of Pampers.

Here's a portion of a statement from Dr. Kimberly Thompson, founder of Kids Risk, Inc.—a non-profit organization dedicated to pediatric safety and risk issues—and adjunct associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health:

From a public health standpoint, parents need to know that the diapers are safe, they have been extensively tested, and that the millions of babies who have already used the over 2.2 billion Pampers diapers sold to date with the new technology do not appear to be experiencing any increase in the number, types, or severity of diaper rashes.

Read the complete article.

Interscan's all new Arc-Max® looks like a winner

Interscan was the first company to realize the importance of data logging in the field of gas detection, coming out with its dosimeters way back in the early 1980s. This was followed by a complete data acquisition/archiving/reporting package called Arc-Max®, introduced a few years later.

When Windows arrived on the scene, Interscan revamped Arc-Max to be based on a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) engine—for enhanced reliability and compatibility with sensors besides its own.

This latest version of Arc-Max is more user-friendly, and lends itself better to customization. Process and environmental sensors can be mixed and matched more readily, and the reporting features can be tweaked to give you exactly what you want.

Virtually all common communication protocols are supported, and the new system is easier to network.

Grab more information here.

If you have Chinese drywall in your house, what are you supposed to do?

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and other agencies, it is a no-brainer. "All" you have to do is tear out all the drywall in your house, and rebuild it. Doing this will cost the affected homeowner about $35/square foot ($377/square meter). The quoted price includes a treatment to the remaining surfaces, which, even though not mentioned by the Feds, is clearly necessary. Without this, your new drywall will get contaminated by what's left in the studs and concrete.

Note that the necessity for this treatment is not mentioned by any of the agencies. Of course, there are many who say that the Feds (and the state agencies for that matter) are "AWOL on drywall."

Since the affected homeowners are going to have to pay the total cost of this remediation out of their own pockets, with no insurance coverage, and no help of any other kind on the horizon, many are understandably wondering if they can live with the problems—or at least postpone having to fix them.

Don't bother looking for guidance on this matter on any government website. Remember "AWOL..."?

Sadly, with certain life safety issues in play, delay in remediation is not without its risks. My latest HND piece covers this topic is some detail. Check it out!