The Great "Chinese Drywall" Scandal Part 1 of a series.
It began with the unregulated import of drywall from China after several years of multiple landfalling hurricanes coincided with a continuing building boom that created a demand for more drywall. Florida and Louisiana were most affected by these imports, but residents of 37 states have complained of the effects of contaminated Chinese drywall. Now the scandal becomes the inept action/inaction of the U.S. government in dealing with this problem.
Earliest reports of problems arising from "Chinese drywall" in US homes date to 2001 with a significant surge in problems associated with homes built or remediated for mold infestation during 2006 to 2007.
The "Chinese drywall" problems result from the emission of noxious reduced sulfur gases from drywall that causes copper to corrode/tarnish, chrome and silver to tarnish, and produces strong unpleasant odors that many people find harmful to their health. This latter condition is most prevalent with people who have pre-existing conditions (asthma, cardiopulmonary issues, or allergies). For many people, the effects are simply unpleasant irritants (nosebleeds, headaches, watering eyes).
Tort lawyers got involved with the problem at the beginning, bringing lawsuits to assess blame. Builders, drywall contractors, drywall suppliers, drywall importers, and, because many of the affected homes were built with Knauf (Germany) drywall made in China, Knauf has been the ultimate defendant in a federal class action trial being heard in Louisiana.
Because so little was known, from the very beginning there have been many rumors and a considerable amount of misinformation about this entire issue. Every phase of the problem has been beset with rumors (from the extent of homes affected, how to detect if a home has the problem, what to do about it, what is actually defective in the drywall that is causing the problem, etc.). This has heightened the emotional aspect of the problem that is further complicated by concerns about the impact on insurance coverage, mortgages, and home values and sales.
As a resident of a Florida community that has a significant number of homes with this problem, I volunteered to be a focal point for information gathered by homeowners in our community so that our residents (many are winter only residents) could receive periodic updates designed to provide good information to counter misinformation and quell rumors. Fortunately, our home does not show any evidence of contaminated drywall and this allows me to approach this issue without the emotional baggage of having to directly contend with it.
One of the first things some of our affected residents did was attend a seminar at a local college whose purpose was to provide sound information about what was known and what was not known about this problem. That became the basis for much of our ensuing research that has included considerable interaction with local, state, and federal politicians, as well as contact with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the federal agency assigned the leadership role for the federal response to this problem.
Over the past year, we have accumulated a considerable base of knowledge ranging from the cause of the gases that are the root of the problem, to exploration of various remediation processes designed to rid a home of this problem. Not all of these processes have survived the scrutiny of testing and experience.
Studies and testimony concerning the safety and functionality of electrical, plumbing and gas piping in contaminated homes has also been researched. We have regularly kept our residents informed of new studies and findings in these areas.
This series of articles will reveal what we've learned about this problem and identify those in both state and federal agencies who have been helpful and shine the light on those agencies whose activities have obstructed the orderly investigative process that could lead to a relatively low-cost and rapid solution for owners of affected buildings. It is a shocking story of poor management and jumping to unfounded conclusions. This is a classic illustration of the difficulty dealing with a serious problem when government agencies get involved with the solution process.
Readers should bear in mind that tort lawyers prosecuting their clients' case at the federal trial being held in Louisiana are seeking the most costly remedy obtainable ostensibly to provide their clients with a larger award. There is a natural allegiance between politicians looking to boost employment in the construction industry and tort lawyers looking for the most destructive and costly solution to this problem. This allegiance and these motives must be kept in mind throughout any discussion of this topic as it has become clear that what is unfolding today may well be rooted in these motives.
Part 2 will tell the story of the discovery of this problem and initial reactions and misinformation. Additional installments will address: rumors and continuing misinformation that have plagued this problem from the outset; the hunt for causation (what produces these reduced sulfur gases?); solution development; government incompetence that produces fresh misinformation that could well have devastating financial consequences to affected homeowners.
Bob Webster is a descendent of Daniel Webster's father and early American patriot, Ebenezer Webster. Bob has always had a strong interest in history, our Constitution, U.S. politics and law. Politically he is a constitutional republican ("little r" republican) with objectivist and libertarian roots, he has faith in the ultimate triumph of truth and reason over deception and emotion. He is a strong believer in our Constitution as written and views the abandonment of constitutional restraint by the regressive Progressive movement as a great danger to our Republic. His favorite novel is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and believes it should be required reading for every high school student so they can understand the dangers of tolerating the growth of unconstitutional crushingly powerful central government. He strongly believes, as our Constitution enshrines, that the interests of the individual should be held superior to the interests of the state.
A lifelong interest in meteorology and climatology spurred his strong interest in science. Bob earned his degree in Mathematics at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1964.