MIAMI — A Florida drywall distributor knew four years ago that it had supplied problematic wallboard to home builders, according to a major Chinese drywall manufacturer, but it never told consumers about the problems.
When Banner Supply turned to Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, or KPT, with complaints from builders, the Chinese manufacturer replaced Banner's inventory of Chinese-made drywall with American-made products. But Banner Supply never said anything about the complaints to the government or to customers who didn't complain, information that could have prevented thousands of homeowners from getting into the expensive, potentially hazardous predicaments they now face.
Next month, several lawsuits against Banner are scheduled to go to trial in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, the first to be heard in Florida. One attorney representing homeowners is pushing the courts to unseal confidential agreements Banner made in 2007 — including one with KPT.
"They are of enormous public interest," Miami attorney Victor Diaz said. Diaz's case could bring to light efforts of manufacturers and distributors to keep information from homeowners and government agencies, a disclosure that could have reduced complaints about imported drywall.
Sulfur compounds emitted from the wallboard are blamed for corroding appliances and causing pervasive odors and respiratory problems. Possible remedies include gutting the house, but many insurance companies will not cover those costs, leaving affected homeowners to turn to the courts.
Although KPT would not provide the confidential agreement it signed with Banner, the company told McClatchy Newspapers it replaced about 2.2 million square feet of Banner's drywall supply in 2007, after the company — one of the state's largest drywall suppliers — contacted it about odor complaints and concerns about emissions from the wallboard in late 2006.
U.S. government agencies have confirmed that defective drywall emissions corrode appliances and ruin wiring and other metals, but tests for health problems are ongoing.
KPT, the only Chinese company responding to U.S. court proceedings, settled out of court with builder Beazer Homes this week, offering to pay to remediate homes in two developments in southwest Florida constructed with KPT drywall.
Earlier in 2006, an Arkansas toxicology company hired by KPT found the drywall emitted sulfur-containing compounds at higher concentrations than found naturally in the air. But the findings weren't seen as severe enough to ignite a public health concern.
In a statement to McClatchy Newspapers, KPT spokesman Don Hayden said that "because there was no basis for any health or safety concern, we did not contact the (Consumer Product Safety Commission) or any other government agency. When issues were later raised about impact to other components of the house such as appliances in the summer and fall of 2008, we participated in investigations by both state and federal agencies."