enviromental resource article

Toxic Chinese drywall accused for health problems in Canada, U.S.

By Chris Montgomery, Canwest News Service

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating complaints about the Chinese-made drywall. All houses affected have shown a common symptom — blackened, scorched wiring behind switch plates and wall plugs — and, coupled with homeowner health symptoms, that's allowed research to proceed.

Photograph by: Handout, Canwest News Service

VANCOUVER — Homeowners from several communities in B.C.'s Lower Mainland have joined the flood of callers to a U.S. consumer group investigating Chinese drywall that has allegedly begun to sicken North Americans.

Thomas Martin, president of America's Watchdog, says that in the past two weeks about a dozen Lower Mainland callers have all reported experiencing the same nose bleeds, breathing problems and allergy-type symptoms that have affected homeowners across the U.S.

Continued exposure could result in severe health problems, the group says.

"This type of drywall was produced with materials that emit toxic hydrogen sulphide gas and other sulphide gases," says a copy of one home inspection report obtained Canwest News Service on an affected Florida home where Chinese drywall was installed. "These sulphide gases are also alleged to cause serious health conditions and illnesses, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, eye irritations and respiratory difficulties."

"It's scary, it's a nightmare. We think we are looking at the worst case of sick houses in U.S. history," Martin said.

"I'd liken it to the problems you find in a meth house (where an illegal lab has been operating)," he said. "If you have had any experience with a meth house, you know it will have to be bulldozed. Like in a meth house, the emissions permeate everything, the two-by-fours, the trusses, the fabric in your furniture, your clothes."

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said last week it was investigating complaints about the Chinese-made drywall.

All houses affected have shown a common symptom — blackened, scorched wiring behind switch plates and wall plugs — and, coupled with homeowner health symptoms, that's allowed research to proceed, Martin said.

Martin said the group has also fielded calls from worried Canadians who bought property south of the border when the Canadian dollar was high.

The drywall in question was imported from China between 2001 and 2007. According to Martin's research, at least 929,000 square metres were imported through Vancouver between 2001 and 2006, all bound for Canadian destinations.

So far, research shows some appears to have landed on the Prairies, some in Toronto, he said.

One possibility is that the Chinese drywall was made using gypsum that was first used in slurry containing carcinogens to de-sulphur coal.

Chemicals remaining in the wallboard are sufficiently toxic that as few as three sheets of drywall may be enough to contaminate a home to the point it may require bulldozing, Martin says.

The difficulty for inspectors is that walls may have been built with drywall from as many as four sources — so simply pulling one clean sample is no guarantee of safety.

Martin said supplies in the U.S. can be tracked where they were used by licensed builders and insurance may pay for the damages. But anyone using small firms or paying for renovations under the table will be difficult to find and help.

Few Canadian labour or industry officials are aware of the issue.

Tiziana Baccega, public relations manager for Home Depot in Canada, said the chain has never sold Chinese-made drywall in any of its Canadian or U.S. outlets.

Other major suppliers and retailers could not be reached.

Several lawsuits, including one by a group of Florida homeowners, have been filed against German drywall maker Knauf Gips KG, its Chinese plasterboard units and several U.S. home builders.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

 

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