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Brittany Vogel

Quality Insider

Chinese Drywall Target of New Investigation

Chinese drywall may be connected to sickness and property damage.

Published: Friday, May 22, 2009 - 10:17

(Quality Digest: May 22, 2009) -- Chinese-imported drywall in homes nationwide is causing illness and the deterioration of home appliances. Residents have reported headaches and bloody noses along with corroded appliances, resulting in the unusually early replacement of parts.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) received its first report of a problem in Dec. 2008. In 2006 alone, U.S. Gypsum, the founder of the North American building materials industry and largest drywall distributor in the country, estimated that 34,000 defective homes could have been built using Chinese drywall. According to Associated Press, the estimated total  from the past four years stands at more than 100,000 affected homes nationwide. After learning of the reported health risks and the effect of sulfur emissions on home appliances, several state governors, including Florida and Virginia, have proposed legislation to Congress that the use of Chinese drywall be temporarily banned.

AMR Research, the leading research firm focused on the global supply chain and its supporting technologies, released a report on May 21, 2009 that due to quality failures, intellectual property infringement and regulatory compliance, the risk with sourcing and manufacturing in China is rapidly increasing. Out of 15 risk categories listed in the report, China qualifies as providing the greatest  amount of risk in 12 of those categories with internal product quality failures cited at the No.3 risk this quarter. In comparison, the United States reaches optimum risk in just five categories. Global companies consider China to be the greatest risk to international supply chains; only 14 percent of global companies source and manufacture out of China compared to the 49 percent in the United States.

“Concerns with China’s product quality and safety record continue to rise from quarter to quarter,” says Noha Tohamy, vice president of research at AMR Research.

The CPSC is currently heading an investigation along with the Environmental Protection Agency and the department of Health and Human Services. “We are working very closely with multiple federal and state agencies/partners to take down incident reports and conduct sampling and lab testing of Chinese-made drywall,” says Juana Kelly, spokesperson for the CPSC. “Is human health being affected? Is it toxic? Are homeowners at risk of an electrical fire?” The CPSC has field officers in most of the affected states to answer these questions.

Chinese drywall is a less refined version of the coal byproduct used in the United States and subsequently costs less to use. Contractors turned to the Chinese alternative at the peak of the housing boom when there was a shortage of U.S. drywall; more than 500 million pounds were imported from China between 2004 and 2008. It is unclear whether all Chinese imported drywall is contributing to the problem, but if so there is the possibility that the frequent mixing of the Chinese and U.S. versions could increase the number of homes affected.

Beyond the rotten egg smell and the reported health-related symptoms, the drywall seems to be affecting electrical devices such as wiring, switches, circuit breakers, and smoke alarms, among others. These devices are suffering from blackening and corrosion, often making them inoperable and sometimes posing a fire hazard.

The CPSC is working with its Chinese counterpart, the General Administration for Quality Inspection, Supervision and Quarantine, in investigating the matter. Results may not come as quickly as people would like, though. “This may take some time, but we really want to get it right, when we announce our results,” says Kelly.

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About The Author

Brittany Vogel’s picture

Brittany Vogel

Brittany Vogel is a reporter and editor for Quality Digest.