Business

Crist Enters Drywall Dispute

Chinese drywall problem still baffles
Posted: March 15, 2010 4:46 PM
Chinese Drywall

Chinese Drywall under investigation after U.S. complaints (Bloomberg Getty Images)

Homebuilders and homeowners across Florida are still waiting for a solution to the Chinese drywall problem. And until the state or federal government develops a plan of action, industry experts say they're likely to continue waiting.

Thousands of homeowners, builders and manufacturers throughout the South have been affected by toxic emissions from Chinese drywall and just this past week Gov. Charlie Crist approached the federal government for relief.

At the direction of the governor, David Halstead, interim director of the state's Emergency Management Division, wrote to the federal Emergency Management Agency seeking financial assistance to cover "significant property damage and potential health risks relating to defective drywall."

The letter identifies 530 homes in which metal corrosion has occurred, meeting Florida's threshold for an "impacted" home. Property appraisers have reported the market value of another 2,505 homes has decreased as a result of drywall damage.

Crist is asking 1) that homeowners who have no means to repair their damaged homes be compensated; 2) that a preliminary damage assessment be done on all other homes that may have drywall damage; and 3) that financial aid be provided to families suffering as a result of the defective drywall.

Most drywall used is manufactured in the United States. But a shortage between 2004 and 2006 brought about by a building boom and a series of hurricanes, resulted in builders buying drywall manufactured in China.

"No federal protocols have been put in place to remediate the situation despite our repeated requests," said Edie Ousley of the Florida Home Builders Association. "That's the missing piece of the puzzle." Nevertheless, she noted, some builders are moving to replace the drywall rather than wait for a government fix. She mentioned national builder Lennar Homes as an example.

An omnibus class-action lawsuit was filed by 13 law firms around the country on behalf of homeowners who have been affected by the defective drywall. Hernandez vs Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co. Ltd. is set to be heard this week by Judge Eldon Fallon of the Eastern District of Louisiana, according to Jordan Chaikin, Esq., of the law firm Parker, Wachman, Alonso LLP of Bonita Springs. It is the first drywall case brought by a consumer in the United States to be litigated.

"We're going after manufacturers of the drywall. We want them to replace all the defective material and personal property and we want them to compensate the owners for the loss of enjoyment of their homes and loss of market value," said Chaikin. "This will involve billions of dollars because the only way it can be fixed is to gut the homes right down to the studs."

Serious health problems are yet another issue involved with the Chinese drywall, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Prolonged exposure to toxins emitted from the material in the drywall can affect the nervous system, cause breathing problems, headaches, eye irritation, nose bleeds, coughing, chest pains and even death.

Dr. David Krause, chief toxicologist for the Florida Department of Health, says, "descriptions of self-reporting have confirmed upper airway irritation. But, no biologically plausible mechanisms that would explain these effects have been explained."

Inspectors have been able to identify homes with Chinese drywall defects because of a sulfur odor similar to rotten eggs, a blackening of copper electrical wiring, and corrosion of air conditioning evaporator coils.

John Hinds can be contacted at JHinds1949@aol.com or (850) 727-0859.


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