Chinese drywall

Some American wallboard now exhibits Chinese drywall symptoms

It's taken well over a year, but the domestic gypsum wallboard industry has now been brought into the tainted and corrosive drywall mess. I'm basing this time interval on when the problems of Florida homeowners George and Brenda Brincku were first publicized (April, 2009). The Brinckus' home showed all the symptoms of Chinese drywall, but there was no Chinese drywall in their house. My latest HND piece covers the story.

It was easy enough for National Gypsum—whose product made up the bulk of what was installed at the Brinkus' home—to simply deny what was going on, or at best dismiss it as "anomalous." But now, 97 homeowners in four states have joined lawsuits against U.S. drywall manufacturers, claiming that their drywall is releasing enough sulfur gas to corrode wiring and appliances and cause headaches, nosebleeds, labored breathing, and irritated eyes. These, of course, are the familiar complaints that have been associated with Chinese drywall.

I have long been a critic of the domestic gypsum industry and its trade association for their utter silence on this matter. Now that one of their own has been implicated, will they finally speak up?

Unfortunately, the industry is not the only problem here. Far too many plaintiff's attorneys and their so-called "experts" are doing their best to spend their clients money, for testing that is not definitive. Inasmuch as a method exists, which is 100% definitive for tainted and corrosive drywall—the Chamber test—this sort of conduct is shameful, and may even constitute fraud.

We also check in with good guy construction industry consultant and consumer advocate Michael Foreman, who offers some practical no-nonsense advice, as usual.

Read the complete article.


7,000 words on Chinese drywall

In what are the first two parts of an ongoing series on Chinese Drywall, Sarasota Herald-Tribune journo Aaron Kessler, along with Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica are doing a superb job.

Here's the first piece.

Here's the second.

This is easily the most comprehensive coverage of the issue—ever—by any media outlet. Someone should nominate these guys for a Pulitzer.


Chinese drywall update

There have been numerous developments on this front, and most of them are not good for consumers. Somehow, though, too many people—and media outlets—have been fooled. My latest HND piece examines the situation.

Included in this update are two high profile so-called "settlements," tainted forever since the plaintiff's lawyers got their fees based on a side deal with the defendants. Thus, there should be no surprise that the plaintiffs got screwed. Under normal circumstances this sort of thing would get you disbarred, but in these cases, it was legal.

Most others in the legal profession consider plaintiff's attorneys to be about one (very small) step up from prostitutes, but even my friends in the profession were incredulous when I told them the circumstances of these particular cases.

Thankfully, there is also a bit of good news for affected homeowners, at least in Florida. And, there are also a few good guys out there.

Read the complete article.


XRF Testing Is Disavowed By The Federal Interagency Task Force On Problem Drywall

An earlier posting covered findings from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, published in May, 2010, that blew the doors off the "science" of X-Ray fluorescence spectroscopy screening of corrosive or tainted (often referred to as "Chinese") drywall.

XRF testing of the drywall is based on the now completely discredited notion that high strontium levels are indicative of tainted drywall. This contention was never supported by any real science, and was merely based on certain observations.

I and many others had objected to this sort of voodoo, and repeatedly challenged proponents to at least proffer a theory as to why strontium should be related to tainted drywall. No such theory was ever proposed.

Finally, tests were done by famed Lawrence Berkeley Labs which conclusively demonstrated that there is no correlation between strontium levels and the amount of corrosive gas that is emitted from tainted drywall. As stated, this data was released last May.

Unfortunately, this was not enough to stop the promoters of XRF home testing, who are charging high fees to give useless reports to hapless and scared homeowners. So, on August 27, the new Interagency Task force—comprised of CPSC, HUD, EPA, and the CDC—released a more aggressive statement on the matter:

Although the Federal Interagency Task Force's study of the elemental and chemical composition of 17 drywall samples has previously shown higher concentrations of elemental sulfur and strontium in Chinese drywall than in non-Chinese drywall, the Task Force now believes that the best and preferred practice for identifying the presence of Chinese drywall in a home does not include the use of strontium as one of the corroborative factors previously set forth by the Task Force.

The Task Force is now removing from the "Step 2" list of corroborating evidence in the Interim Guidance the factor addressing strontium levels in excess of 1200 ppb. The Task Force does not believe strontium has a causative role in the problems reported with the problematic drywall. Furthermore, the Task Force believes it is appropriate to remove the strontium level as a corroborative factor due to the possibility that its use may lead to false-positive results where a homeowner may mistakenly believe their home contains problem drywall.

It is worth noting that the Court in the major federal case on tainted drywall IN RE CHINESE MANUFACTURED DRYWALL PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION, relating to Germano, et al v. Taishan Gypsum Co, Ltd, et al found in February, 2010 that:

[XRF technology] is not reliable for selective identification of which individual boards are Chines drywall and which are not. This finding is based on data suggesting that the use of the XRF to detect individual sheets of Chinese drywall results in many false readings.

So, let's summarize here...

  • The lead federal agencies involved with the Chinese drywall problem have disavowed the used of XRF
  • The key federal case on this matter has found that XRF is "not reliable."

It can't be any clearer than this. When it comes to XRF for Chinese drywall, put a fork in it, it's done.

Therefore, run—do not walk—from anyone who wants to inspect your house using XRF. The only reliable method at the moment is non-destructive evaluation, whereby the effects of the tainted drywall are observed and evaluated.


Good guy Michael Foreman tells it like it is on tainted (Chinese) drywall

If there's one guy who knows where it's at on the Chinese drywall mess, it's Michael Foreman. He and I have worked together on this matter for months now, and find ourselves up against all kinds of scams and misinformation.

Foreman lays it out for you in his comprehensive nearly 1000-word press release entitled "Chinese Drywall Abatement, Treatment, and Testing: Who Do You Trust? Who can you trust?"

Here are some highlights...

Victimized Consumers who turned to the US Court System for justice, are finding out rapidly, the recent judgments issued by the Courts are worthless or hollow victories until perfected or collected, and they are starting to further understand, it may be years or even decades, based on appeals, legal issues and maneuvers, before any money or relief actually appears, if at all.

All the government agencies have provided are "interim guidelines" concerning the ABATEMENT, TREATMENT, TESTING AND POST TREATMENT TESTING PROCESS. Guidelines that on the surface, sound or look complete, but actually raise more questions than answers, when reviewed, initiated, and actually looked at closely.

Just take the first issue ... Abatement ...

Abatement sounds good ...

  • What needs to be abated?
  • Who determines what needs to be abated?
  • How do you perform the abatement?
  • Who is qualified to perform the abatement?
  • Who is qualified to determine the level of abatement?
  • How do you confirm the abatement was successful?
  • Who guarantees abatement?
  • What licenses are required for the abatement?
  • Who pays for the abatement?

Read the complete press release, and if your house is affected, I strongly recommend that you get in touch with Michael Foreman.


Getting techie on Chinese drywall

That's the title of my latest HND article. We take a look at some good science—as done by the Consumer Product Safety Commission—and expose an overblown and now discredited approach.

"Overblown" and "discredited" would apply to the carelessly and perhaps cynically promoted use of x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy as a magic bullet to discern tainted drywall. The theory was that any board with a strontium level higher than 1200 ppm (or mg/kg) would be tainted, and given the ease of using an XRF gun to make this measurement, XRF would be the way to go.

Then, the drywall test results from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs came in...

One sample, from Taian Taishan put out 185.14µg/m2/hr of hydrogen sulfide, and was rated as the second worst tested. But, its strontium content was a mere 273 mg/kg. Then there's a super-clean American board with no measurable hydrogen sulfide, with strontium at an eye-popping 2580 mg/kg.

How about one of the lowest emitting Chinese samples tested, with virtually unmeasurable sulfide emissions, and an astounding 5890 mg/kg of strontium?

Strontium APPEARED to be a marker for high sulfide, based on preliminary work, but it now seems as if the deck was stacked. Perhaps, board from particular mines with high strontium and high sulfur just happened to occur in many of the first homes tested.

I'm also inclined to believe that negative findings were suppressed. I wonder how long it will take for XRF instrument manufacturers to remove tainted drywall references from their websites—or at least acknowledge that XRF alone is not definitive?

Keep track right here:

Innov-X Systems

Oxford Instruments

Quickshot

Thermo Fisher Scientific

Right now, the best inspection method is still non-destructive evaluation, looking for signs of tainted drywall (corrosion to wires and HVAC components, usually accompanied by odor).

Read the complete article.

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.


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!


What about fixing those Chinese drywall-contaminated houses?

I was down in Florida last week, where the subject of Chinese drywall is never far from anyone's thoughts. Outside the Sunshine State, though, media coverage has been a bit spotty, for two reasons:

The victim group is wrong, being comprised mostly of middle class white people; and the extent of this environmental and financial disaster has proven (if such proof were even needed these days) that the Feds are far better at collecting tax revenue than actually solving the problems these tax dollars are supposed to solve.

Upwards of 60,000 homes are affected in Florida alone, with one of the hardest hit cities being Cape Coral. I spent three days there last week to observe the situation first hand. For most of the trip, I tagged along with Michael Foreman of Foreman and Associates, the state's leading purveyor of remediation for Chinese drywall problems.

Given that Florida is already home to countless scam artists, there are probably hundreds offering a panacea to this problem. Let me assure you: Foreman is the real deal, and he's racking up the successfully treated homes to prove it.

Remediation consists of removing all the drywall, insulation, wiring, ducting, and furring strips, cleaning the place up, and then treating all remaining surfaces with a proprietary chlorine dioxide solution from AbissoCleanse, Inc. After this treatment, core samples are taken from block and wood, and only after these pass muster does reconstruction of the house begin.

This is all good news, but it is overshadowed somewhat by the fact that so far, anyone who wants to clean up his tainted house is doing it on his own dime. That's right. Currently, there is no help whatsoever for those poor souls, who—through no fault of their own—got stuck with a contaminated house.

Foreman and others are working to change this. Thousands are hoping that they will succeed.

Check out my HND article, that covers this in more detail.