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Robert Trigaux

Chinese drywall problems spread; U.S.-made drywall now target of investigations, lawsuits



Wake up and good morning. A potentially explosive turn of events in the long stewing "Chinese drywall" controversy -- housing with drywall that exudes a sulfur stink and corrodes metal wiring and air conditioning in newer homes -- comes to us courtesy of today's Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "Two years after thousands of Americans learned that defective Chinese drywall had contaminated their houses, a growing group of homeowners say they are experiencing similar problems -- but their homes are built with drywall made in the United States.

"Ninety-seven homeowners in four states have joined lawsuits against U.S. drywall manufacturers in the past year, claiming that their drywall is releasing enough sulfur gas to corrode wiring and appliances and cause headaches, nosebleeds, labored breathing and irritated eyes -- complaints that until now have been mostly associated with Chinese drywall," the Sarasota newspaper reports. All the makers deny anything is wrong with their products.

Here are some highlights of the front page story, which is a collaboration of the Herald-Tribune and ProPublica (read it here):

* Plaintiffs in the largest lawsuit, which involves 93 Florida homes, attribute the problems to drywall made by National Gypsum, one of the nation's largest drywall manufacturers. Separate cases have been filed against National Gypsum in Arizona and Alabama.

* Another lawsuit filed by a Florida couple against Georgia Pacific has been settled out of court.

* Court records show that many of the plaintiffs have test results from independent laboratories that show high levels of sulfur gas coming from the walls of their homes. Plaintiff attorneys say the gas release may somehow be connected to synthetic gypsum, a form of coal ash produced by the scrubbing process that removes sulfur dioxide from the emissions of coal-fired power plants. Nearly half of American drywall is now made with this synthetic product, known as flue gas desulfurized gypsum or FGD gypsum

* Despite its increasing popularity, synthetic gypsum is not regulated by the federal government. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supports the reuse of FGD gypsum because it protects the air, recycles waste that would otherwise go to a landfill and creates useful products.

* The story cites numerous Florida homeowners who have encountered U.S.-made gypsum problems. Florida's Lee County, where a lot of new building took place in the past decade, stands out as an area especially steeped in gypsum problems.

If U.S. gypsum makers have used this synthetic FGD gypsum in drywall, we may be hearing a lot more about this legal mess. Chinese drywall is still a big issue out there but that country may no longer have a monopoly on a stink-producing, metal-corroding, health-endangering building material.

Overall, according to a ProPublica database (look for yourself here), Tampa Bay has plenty of drywall-affected homes, including Pinellas County (108 homes), Hillsborough County (515 homes), Pasco County (59 homes), Manatee County (80 homes), Sarasota County (93 homes) and Hernando County (just one home) -- so far. And the winner among Florida counties is Lee with 1,546 affected homes.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Thursday, December 16, 2010 6:54am]


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