Recently, the national media and numerous consumer advocate websites have reported consumer complaints and lawsuits concerning so-called “Chinese drywall.” The product is identified as such because it was manufactured in China using either synthetic gypsum, or natural gypsum reportedly taken from Chinese gypsum mines. Natural gypsum rocks are sedimentary rocks made up of sulfate minerals. Synthetic gypsum is manufactured with byproducts of coal combustion power plants. The largest incidence of claims has been in Florida. Consulting firms testing the product allege the drywall emits carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and hydrogen sulfide gases. Consumers sometimes report a smell like that of rotten eggs, often associated with hydrogen sulfide gas. Complaints range from respiratory symptoms and illnesses such as shortness of breath to sore throat, nausea and cough. Property damage claims to date primarily involve “off-gassing” which is alleged to cause corrosion of air conditioners, refrigerator coils, microwaves, and copper wiring and tubing products. There is no known repair for the affected drywall other than its removal. Homes constructed or remodeled subsequent to 2000, especially between 2003 and 2007, are reported to be the most likely candidates for use of the product.
A class action lawsuit against German manufacturers Knauf Gips and Knauf Plasterboard Company was filed recently in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The suit alleges Chinese drywall product used extensively in South Florida contained contaminated gypsum. Knauf has three plasterboard plants in China which have been operating since 1995. The suit alleges Knauf Gips sold the contaminated drywall to various suppliers in Florida who purchased it because of a shortage of construction materials due to an increased housing market and reconstruction necessitated by increased hurricane activity and associated property damage losses. Knauf attributes the problem to a specific gypsum mine that furnished materials for its Tianjin, China manufacturing plant, but it denies emissions above naturally occurring levels. News stories indicate over 550 million pounds of Chinese drywall products came into the United States between 2004 and 2006. Almost sixty percent of that is reputed to have entered the country through Florida ports.
The website of a consumer advocacy group called “Americas Watchdog” currently reports the discovery of Chinese drywall in Houston and Austin subdivisions. However, the website for San Antonio Business, “My SA business” reports that Associated Builders and Contractors of Greater Houston and Greater Houston Builders Association disclaim any such use.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently conducting an investigation of the product, but has yet to release a report. The website does provide answers to frequently asked health questions. At present there appears to be little recognized medical or scientific literature causally linking exposure to the product to long-term health effects or supporting the likelihood of extensive property damage. Nonetheless, the internet is abuzz with law firms advertising to take such claims and it would not be surprising to see them appearing in Texas’ Gulf Coast region in the near future.
With our firm’s breadth and depth of experience in handling mass toxic tort and property casualty claims, Sheehy, Ware & Pappas, P.C. stands ready to assist you in managing and defending any litigation arising from this product.