Sulfur-emitting Chinese-made drywall smells bad and corrodes wiring, air-conditioning coils, and other metals, but there’s no evidence that it killed 11 people who lived in or visited homes with the defective product, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported Monday.

As part of a scientific investigation into the problem drywall, which came into the spotlight in late 2008, the CPSC asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to review the medical records of 11 people whose families questioned whether exposure to the drywall was a factor in their deaths.

People living in homes with rooms lined with the defective drywall have reported an array of health problems, including recurring headaches, irritated and itchy eyes and skin, difficulty breathing, persistent coughs, runny noses, sinus infections and congestion, sore throats, frequent nosebleeds and asthma attacks.

The medical records of 11 people who lived in or visited homes where the presence of the defective drywall was confirmed were reviewed by health officials in the three states where they died, Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia. By reviewing records, the officials ascertained that all had severe health conditions unrelated to the imported drywall.

The five cases reviewed from Louisiana included four men and one woman ranging in age from 59 to 78. All five had several long-term, severe, pre-existing chronic health conditions before their deaths. Four had heart disease in addition to other severe illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, and systemic lupus. The fifth had metastasized cancer and vascular-related diseases.

The five cases reviewed from Florida included three men and two women who were between the ages of 60 and 86. Four were diagnosed with cancers, two lung, one bladder, and one laryngeal, and two of those also had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The fifth had a primary diagnosis of Alzheimer’s with other chronic illnesses.

The single death investigated in Virginia was of an 82-year-old with chronic heart disease, acute cholecystitis and pneumonia.

There were some limitations to the investigations, officials said. The health officials only had access to existing clinical information which could have been incomplete. In addition, there was no information on environmental exposures before their illness or death, including indoor air testing of the homes where they lived.

Investigators said the reviews can’t be used to draw broad conclusions about the health impacts of living in or visiting homes with imported drywall. The CPSC officials said the agency is in the final stages of completing its scientific investigation into problem drywall.

Samples of drywall imported from China during 2005 and 2006 as well as domestically produced drywall and more recent drywall from China have been placed in controlled chambers where their gas outputs can be measured and monitored.

The samples of the older Chinese-produced drywall showed significant off-gassing of a variety of sulfur and related compounds compared with the domestically manufactured products and more recently imported Chinese drywall.

Tests of homes with the tainted drywall have been less conclusive. None of the sulfur compounds found in the indoor air were at concentrations historically associated with human health effects and the concentrations could not explain the adverse health symptoms reported to the CPSC, according to a report.

However, the report adds that there are many complicated and variable chemical reactions that could be occurring in these homes as the sulfur compounds react with other gases emitted from furnishings and other products.

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine. 


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