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Blog Environmental Issues Chinese Drywall Issues: Fact or Fiction?
Chinese Drywall Issues: Fact or Fiction?
Environmental Issues
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It seems that some of the drywall produced in China could be making people sick. EPA testing on samples of Chinese drywall revealed that the samples did contain higher levels of some compounds that are considered to be potentially dangerous such as strontium and sulfur. The United States Department of Health has declared that these levels are not high enough to cause toxic effects. Does this mean that those who have Chinese drywall in their home are safe?
 
Back in 2004 the housing market was booming, so much in fact that a building material shortage was created. This shortage results in drywall being imported from China. Today, it seems that this imported drywall is putting off the scent of sulfur and causing some of the metal that is used in home construction to corrode. A few of the products at greatest risk include copper pipes, condenser coils, and electrical wiring.

Theories Behind the Issues

Before assuming that this is all the fault of Chinese drywall producers, it is important to delve a bit deeper. For starters, not all of the drywall that was imported from China during the suspect time frame is tainted. Too add to the confusion, some imports were branded by companies in the United States. Experts claim that much of the imported drywall was used in the state of Florida. However, records indicate that it was also used in many other states.

Probable Problem Causes

There are two theories that surround the possible roots of the problem. Coal fly ash was used as a filler in the production of some Chinese drywall. Many claim that this ash is responsible for releasing the gases which create a scent and can damage metal products. Another theory relates to the fact that ship transported drywall could be held off port for quite some time. This type of storage could have allowed moisture to penetrate the drywall, allowing bacteria to form and grow. This bacteria could feel off the metal in the home and eventually cause failure.

What Chemists Have To Say

Laboratory tests show that the sulfides in Chinese drywall can release vapors. These vapors can cause hydrogen sulfide to form. Hydrogen sulfide puts off a foul odor. When mixed with natural air elements, acid compounds can form. It is these compounds that can can cause corrosion. The warm and extremely humid climate in Florida could be responsible for increased vapor release and accelerated corrosion.

Chinese Drywall Compounds

The following compounds contained in some imported drywall can cause health problems when exposure levels are high:
  • Strontium sulfide - Can affect bone growth in children.
  • Carbon disulfide - Linked to decreased fertility in both men and women. May also cause fetus damage and spontaneous abortion in pregnant women.
  • Sulfur Dioxide - Can increase asthma problems. When reacting to certain air chemicals, sulfate particles can form and be inhaled. These particles may cause respiratory problems, and early death.
  • Hydrogen Sulfide - Often found in natural gas, this compound may cause problems even at lower levels. Headaches, dizziness, and stomach upset are linked to exposure.

Which Homes Are At the Greatest Risk?

Homes and condos constructed between 2003-2007 may contain this drywall. Areas which experienced lots of building and renovation during these years may also have it. Unpleasant odors in the home, such as a smell that resembles a rotten egg, especially during warm weather is a red flag. Unexplained failure of home mechanical or electrical elements is also a red flag. One of these indicators alone may not be cause for alarm. However, two or more could be cause for concern.

Is Chinese Drywall In My Home?

Unfortunately, label inconsistencies may not allow you to easily identify this drywall in your home. Since it was often labeled under a US brand name, or not labeled at all, the drywall will need to be tested in order to determine whether or not it is tainted. It is possible that a combination of both domestic and imported drywall were used in the construction process.
 
Lab testing will be required in order to determine what the chemical makeup actually is. Laboratory testing will require a small piece of the drywall to be cut out and taken. Positive results tend to be accurate. However, false negatives are possible. Prior to cutting pieces of drywall out of your home, contact a home inspector for a chinese drywall inspection. Many home inspectors are trained to spot Chinese drywall, and some even offer on-site testing.

Solving the Problem

Should it be determined that Chinese drywall is in your home, replacement is recommended. Long term exposure effects have not yet be determined. Should immediate replacement not be possible, keep the home cool and indoor humidity levels down may help slow the release of foul odors and corrosion. As more studies are now being done, expect to hear more about the effects of Chinese drywall in the near future.


Authors Note:  For additional information about potential health concerns regarding Chinese drywall, please contact your local health department.  Investigations into the effects of Chinese drywall are ongoing and new information may become available in the future.


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Darin Redding
Written on Monday, 15 June 2009 18:53 by Darin Redding

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