JAMES CITY — They moved to James City County from Connecticut one day four years ago in a vehicle caravan, Jeff and Susann Tierney followed by the couple's elderly parents.
The Tierneys had just retired. They wanted to move to the Williamsburg area, but rather than leave their parents in Connecticut, they all decided to relocate to Virginia.
The Tierneys purchased a single-family house and shopped for condominiums for Jeff's dad Donald Tierney, and Susann's parents Janet and Paul Jones.
The Braemar Creek condominiums were two doors down from each other, next to a golf course.
"It was a happy time, but it turned into a nightmare," Susann Tierney said Thursday.
They didn't know it at the time, but the condominiums were built with toxic Chinese drywall.
"If we only knew," Susann said, her voice trailing off.
The drywall releases hydrogen sulfide and possibly other gases, causing corrosion of wiring and appliances, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. Those who have lived in homes with the drywall have also complained of adverse health effects, but experts say a correlation with long-term health problems has yet to be proven.
The Tierneys believe that Donald Tierney, who died in July 2008 at age 82, died from exposure to the drywall gases, although there's no direct proof.
They didn't discover the condominiums had toxic drywall until this year, but when they found out, it all made sense, Susann Tierney said. What happened to her father-in-law moved into sharper focus.
"It was like suddenly everything clicked," said the former nurse.
Donald Tierney lived in the condo for about a year before his health deteriorated. But then he started wheezing and having problems with his central nervous system. Sometimes he couldn't move his legs.
The wheezing puzzled his son Jeff, 58, because his father never smoked or had respiratory troubles. Other than some hypertension issues, his father was in good health, Jeff Tierney said.
But many people exposed to the gases from the drywall have complained of breathing problems, including several previously interviewed by the Daily Press.
One day in July 2008, Jeff was visiting his father, when suddenly Donald couldn't breathe.
"He was in real distress, really grasping, pulling for air," said Tierney, a former assistant fire chief.
He died a few days later at the hospital. His death certificate lists "respiratory insufficiency" as the primary cause of death.
Since they discovered in January that the condominiums had Chinese drywall, they sent his medical records to the Consumer Product Safety Commission to potentially be used for research. Susann's mother, Janet Jones, also is having medical problems they believe are related to the drywall. The Joneses have since moved out of the condo.
Dr. Dwight Flammia, a public health toxicologist with the Virginia Department of Health, said it's possible years from now a link will be discovered between the drywall and health problems. But he said right now it's too early to tell.
The Tierneys say they feel guilty, blaming themselves for Donald's death.
"It's difficult to not think about it," Jeff Tierney said. His father, a former electrician, enjoyed traveling and playing horseshoes. Susann Tierney said they don't want others to suffer.
"Some people are still living in the homes. They need to be aware of what's happening to them," she said.
The public is invited to attend a meeting of the Defective Drywall Task Force from 1-3 p.m. on Monday at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News.
To read about the Chinese drywall issue, go to dailypress.com/drywallCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times