A second member of Congress reached out to even more federal agencies on Feb. 27, asking for investigations into claims that drywall from China is emitting sulfuric gases, which deteriorates HVAC systems and electrical wiring in homes and has spurred health-related complaints.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida has written the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Trade Representative, sending the agencies copies of newspaper stories about the drywall and asking them to "take any corrective steps available to resolve the issue."
"Florida's 13th Congressional District, which I represent, has some of the highest concentrations of imported Chinese drywall found so far," wrote Buchanan. "Some homeowners have complained about the foul odors generated by this imported drywall, expressed concern that it might be a threat to the health of young children in these homes, and noted that the drywall may have damaged other aspects of their homes, such as the framing or electrical wiring.
"To their credit, some home builders have been working with homeowners to resolve these concerns," wrote Buchanan. "However, the size of this problem may need a broader federal effort, given that hundreds of millions of pounds of Chinese drywall was used in homes built in more than 25 states over the past three years."
In the middle of February, Sen. Bill Nelson wrote to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), asking that agency to investigate.
Last week, Joseph Martyak, acting director of the CPSC's office of information and public affairs, confirmed that the agency had been investigating for a month whether sulfur off-gassing from the drywall leads to breakdown or corrosion of household systems and had recently "intensified our efforts by launching a formal compliance investigation. We are following up with consumer complaints as well as looking at whatever builders may be using the imported drywall."
Martyak said the agency is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Health. "Our goal is to determine the extent of any risk involved in Chinese-made drywall."
At the time, Martyak said he expected the investigation to take another two weeks.
Worries that drywall imported from China might be causing problems began when a number of owners of newly built homes in Florida during the peak of the building boom complained about sulfur smells. Builders also noticed a pattern of warranty complaints about quickly deteriorating copper tubing in the homes' HVAC systems as well as blackened exposed electrical wiring. The problem was traced to drywall imported from China during the building boom peak that apparently emits more sulfuric gases than typical drywall.
The issue, which had been dealt with quietly for the past couple of years, jumped onto the national stage in December when newspapers in Southwest Florida began to write about the problems from the point of view of the homeowners.
Since then, at least two lawsuits, one a class-action claim, have been filed against builders and one manufacturer of the drywall.
Lennar has actively been trying to mitigate problems the drywall has caused its customers in Florida. WCI and Taylor Morrison are two other builders that have said they may have an issue with the drywall in homes they built.
But many say, if the big production builders installed the drywall in homes they were building during the boom years when drywall was hard to get, other builders are likely to have used the same product because they were hiring some of the same sub-contractors.
Lennar has agreed that the drywall is causing problems with systems in its customers' houses and has even relocated some residents while it removes and replaces the drywall. It then, in turn, sued its suppliers and drywall manufacturers seeking to be reimbursed for its efforts. However, Lennar has said air samples within its homes have showed levels of sulfuric gases to resemble that found naturally in the outside air and from other sources. Knaupf, the manufacturer of some of the drywall implicated as problematic, conducted similar tests and also determined there was no health risk.
There are still far more questions than answers available for the issue. But there are a lot more people working on getting answers. In addition to government agencies, others, including many personal injury attorneys, have jumped on the case.
A good barometer of just how much spin is going on with the issue is a quick Google search for "Chinese Drywall," which brings up a number of advertisements from attorneys seeking clients who might have the drywall in their homes, as well as the news stories written on the topic.
America's Watchdog, a national consumer advocacy group, is partnering with a network of attorneys across the country who are investigating the problem and testing the products. The group claims it can prove the drywall was installed in homes in at least 25 states.