Chinese Drywall: What You Need To Know To Protect Your Family

Chinese drywall – you might have heard the term, but not know much about it. No, it's nothing like a Chinese fire drill and fun and games are not involved in any way. It may not seem like something you need to worry about, but if you live in the southeastern United States and in a home that was built between 2001 and 2005, your home and family may be at risk. In this article, learn what Chinese drywall is, how it can affect your family, how to find out if it was used in your home and what to do if your house is contaminated.

What is Chinese Drywall?

If you live in a southeastern U.S. state, this may be an extremely important question.

Chinese drywall is wallboard that was imported into the U.S. during a drywall shortage in the early 2000s, particularly after the 2004 – 2005 record-breaking hurricane season. As homes were being built and rebuilt, specifically in states including Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia and Texas, Chinese drywall began being imported to cover demand.

It was later discovered that people living in homes that contained the drywall were reporting significant health problems and failing appliances and wiring. There were reports of metal corroding, tarnishing faster than normal and pitting. In addition, the wallboard also emitted a strong odor of rotten eggs.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) soon became involved and discovered that the drywall imported from China was contaminated with elevated levels of sulfur compounds, including:

  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Carbon disulfide
  • Methyl mercaptan
  • Dimethyl sulfide
  • Carbonyl sulfide
  • Ethyl mercaptan

Samples of U.S.-made drywall contain very low or undetectable amounts of these chemicals. Scientists found that the highest levels of chemicals were emitted when the samples were exposed to high temperatures and humidity.

While there has been no explanation as to why the Chinese drywall was so contaminated, there is no further cause for concern. In 2012, the Drywall Safety Act was passed, which prohibits Chinese drywall from being imported, as well as setting standards for the chemical composition of domestic and imported drywall.

How Can Chinese Drywall Affect Your Family's Health?

The biggest and initial cause for concern about Chinese drywall was how it affected the health of those living in contaminated homes.

Complaints made to the CPSC described the following health issues:

  • Recurrent headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irritated and itchy skin and eyes
  • Persistent cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sinus infections
  • Frequent nose bleeds
  • Asthma attacks

These conditions were common among all families living in homes that were built using the toxic drywall and only the removal of the material put an end to the symptoms.

How Can Chinese Drywall Be Identified?

If you feel that Chinese drywall may have been used in your home and your family is experiencing the health symptoms associated with exposure to the contamination, you should either do your own inspection or hire a professional to inspect your home.

Besides the health issues, there could also be signs in your home that may indicate a problem, including:

  • Unexplained appliance failure, particularly with your air conditioning system
  • Failures in electronics, such as televisions, computers and DVD players
  • Blackened wires and copper pipes
  • Light bulbs burning out much faster than normal
  • Silver or silver plated items, such as jewelry and flatware, tarnishing faster than normal
  • Metal deterioration, especially in laundry rooms where humidity is high

You can begin your inspection by removing four to six outlet covers and outlets in your home. If the bare, or neutral, ground wire is black or corroded, that may signify the presence of contaminated drywall.

Another place to check for damage is inside your air conditioning unit. Remove the system's air handler to inspect the copper evaporator coil. If the coil is black, there is a problem.

Other indicators include darkened corners of mirrors or a blackened refrigerator coil.

Finally, remove a large portion of your drywall and search the back for markers. Markers that indicate Chinese drywall include:

  • Any Chinese characters
  • The company name Knauf
  • If it is marked "Made in China"

It can sometimes be difficult to find indication on the drywall that it was made in China, so you may want to consider hiring a professional to inspect the drywall for you.

How Can a Contaminated House Be Remediated?

If you have discovered that your home is contaminated by Chinese drywall, you should immediately contact a lawyer. Class action suits are ongoing and it is important that you know what actions you should take to give you the best chance of being compensated for repairs.

Unfortunately, the extent of repairs is massive. Problematic drywall cannot be left inside your home.

The first drywall trial, in which the judge determined that the Chinese manufacturer was responsible to make all the necessary repairs to make homes safe. These repairs include the removal and replacement of all of the following materials:

  • Drywall
  • Electrical wiring (insulated and uninsulated)
  • Copper pipes
  • Entire HVAC system
  • Most appliances (particularly the refrigerator)
  • Electronics, such as televisions and computers
  • Carpeting
  • Hardwood and vinyl flooring
  • Tile flooring, unless it can be protected during repairs
  • Cabinets and countertops
  • Trim, molding and baseboards
  • Bathroom fixtures

Once all those materials and items are removed from the home, it must be cleaned with HEPA vacuums, wiped down or power-washed and aired out for at least 15 to 30 days. Prior to rebuilding, the property must be certified by an independent engineering company as structurally safe.

The reason that China produced such toxic drywall is still undetermined, but what is clear is that houses affected by the contamination require extensive remediation. If your home was built after 2001 and you live in the most affected areas, use the information in this article to determine whether you have Chinese drywall in your home and to begin taking steps to have it remedied.