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.