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CPSC Says Metal Corrosion in Homes Linked to Chinese Drywall

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Homeowners plagued by defective Chinese drywall finally have some answers today.  According to the results of a  Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) study, the smelly Chinese drywall is tied to metal corrosion seen in homes built with the material.  However, the agency said that more investigation is needed to determine what long term hazards the defective Chinese drywall may pose.

The CPSC said it will be using the results from this study and other information to design a cost-effective screening protocol to identify homes with problem drywall.  Its Identification and Remediation Protocol Team will also look at remediation protocols, to see what cost-efficiency improvements to current remediation practices, if any, may be available, and what guidance should be issued on doing the work safely, the agency said.

So far, the CPSC has received 2,091 reports from residents in 32 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico concerning Chinese drywall. Gases emitted from Chinese drywall are being blamed for significant property damage, including damage to HVAC systems, smoke detectors, electrical wiring, metal plumbing components, and other household appliances. These gases also produce a sulfurous odor that permeates homes, and cause metals, including air conditioning coils and even jewelry, to corrode. People living with Chinese drywall have also suffered eye, respiratory and sinus problems that may be linked to the gases.

Hundreds of homeowners have filed suit over defective Chinese drywall, and all pending federal cases have been consolidated in a multidistrict litigation currently underway in New Orleans.  The first bellwether trials in that litigation are expected to begin in January.

According to a statement from the CPSC, results from a major indoor air study of 51 homes, along with initial reports from two studies of corrosion in homes with Chinese drywall, confirmed that the presence of hydrogen sulfide is the essential component that causes copper and silver sulfide corrosion found in the complaint homes. Other factors, including air exchange rates, formaldehyde and other air contaminants contribute to the reported problems.

The CPSC’s tests compared indoor air quality on 41 homes that had been the subject of Chinese drywall complaints,  and 10 homes that had not.  Copper and silver test strips, known as coupons, were exposed in  all homes for a period of about two weeks. The study was conducted between July and September 2009.

According to the CPSC, the coupons showed significantly higher rates of corrosion in complaint homes than in the control homes. The dominant species of corrosion on the coupons was copper sulfide and silver sulfide, as determined by additional laboratory tests. Visual inspection and evaluation of ground wire corrosion also revealed statistically significant greater ground wire corrosion in complaint homes compared to non-complaint homes.

The study also found elevated formaldehyde readings in both the control and complaint homes.  Both formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide are known irritants at sufficiently high levels. While the concentrations measured in this study were below those levels, the CPSC said investigators believe that the additive or synergistic effects of these and other compounds in the subject homes could cause irritant effects seen in the homes.

The CPSC said it is still studying the  long term safety effects of the Chinese drywall.  The Sandia National Laboratories’  Materials and Engineering Center is studying the long-term electrical safety hazards of conductor metal components. The National Institute of Standards and Technology  is studying the corrosion effects on fire safety components taken from complaint homes.  According to the CPSC,  these ongoing investigations will help identify any associations between Chinese drywall and long term safety issues.

This much-anticipated report comes just a little more than a week before some Chinese drywall homeowners face a major lawsuit deadline.  Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Eldon E. Fallon, who is overseeing the federal Chinese drywall litigation, announced that an agreement had been reached Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co., Ltd.  that will greatly streamline the legal process for claimants whose homes contain wallboard manufactured by Knauf.  To take advantage of this agreement, victims whose homes were built with wallboard made by Knauf must sign onto an omnibus class action lawsuit against the company by  December 2, 2009.  Knauf has agreed to waive its rights under The Hague Convention for the Service of Process Abroad for claimants who join this lawsuit by December 2.  The lawsuit itself will be filed by December 9, 2009.

The December 2 deadline is a hard deadline, and the omnibus complaint will not be amended at a later date to add more people. To be eligible for the omnibus lawsuit, claimants must submit pictures or other proof that they have wallboard made by Knauf Plasterboard in their homes by December 2, 2009. Any Chinese drywall homeowner interested in becoming a party to this lawsuit must start now by contacting an attorney and arranging to have their home inspected.

Parker Waichman LLP, the first law firm to file a federal Chinese drywall lawsuit, is offering assistance to any homeowner interested in joining the Knauf Plasterboard lawsuit. Free consultations are available through the firm’s website at www.yourlawyer.com, or by calling 1-800-LAW-INFO (1-800-529-4636).

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