Consumers told to gut Chinese-drywall homes

Homeowners who may have hazardous Chinese drywall in their homes should remove it, two government agencies said Friday, in effect advising thousands of people from Florida to California to gut their homes.

Consumers should remove “all possible problem drywall” and replace their electrical wiring, sprinkler systems, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, according to new guidelines issued Friday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Based on the scientific work to date, removing the problem drywall is the best solution currently available to homeowners,” said Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman of the safety commission.

Authorities began investigating problem drywall in 2008, when homeowners in Florida complained of foul odors seeping from their walls and corrosion in their air conditioners, mirrors, electrical units and jewelry.

Although officials initially found no problem with the Chinese-made material, studies eventually showed that the corrosion could be linked to drywall from China. The problematic drywall emits hydrogen sulfide at rates 100 times the rates of non-Chinese samples, the commission said.

Some homeowners complained of health problems, including coughing, nosebleeds, sinus infections and other throat, nose and lung irritation. The commission said it was continuing to investigate claims from residents in 37 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and American Samoa.

The agency issued guidelines in January to help consumers identify whether their homes contained problem drywall.

Homeowners who had new drywall installed between 2001 and 2008 were instructed to look for blackened copper electrical wiring or air conditioner coils. Inspectors would then test the corrosive conditions in the homes and the drywall.

Now, the same homeowners are being told that the best step is to remove the drywall, which amounts to gutting homes or additions where the cheap, imported building material was used.

It’s still unclear who will pay for this process. Thousands of homeowners have filed suit against the Chinese manufacturers who made the drywall and the U.S. companies that sold it.

“We are looking to recover not just the cost to fix the home, but other damages,” said Jordan Chaikin, a lawyer with Parker Waichman Alonso, a New York law firm that is representing about 1,000 homeowners who have sued for damages.

Many of the homes containing the Chinese drywall are in the Southeast. They were constructed after hurricanes destroyed homes in Florida and Louisiana.

In addition, many complaints have arisen from homes built in several states in 2006, near the end of the housing boom.