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Chinese Drywall: A Builder's Perspective

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West Palm Beach, FL"Throughout my 30-year career as a builder I have installed over 300,000 sheets of drywall and we have never come across anything like this Chinese drywall," says John George of "Sadly, we don't know the ramifications yet of this contaminated Chinese drywall mess, but it could pose a serious health problem."

Drywall InstallationJohn George says his company is trying to find out if people have had their homes built with the contaminated product before their copper wiring corrodes or their air conditioners break down. Or before they get sick. George's company conducts a number of tests that detects hydrogen sulphide--a colorless, toxic and flammable gas that is partially responsible for the foul odor of rotten eggs.

Detecting Chinese Drywall
"With our testing tools, we are trying to head this problem off at the pass," explains George. "It works out well for both clients and lawyers because we can eliminate people who have complaints that aren't associated with Chinese drywall--we also test for pet dander; we think some people are complaining about health issues that they believe is coming from their drywall but they be allergic to dander." George says that, as well as cats and dogs, some people are allergic to birds; his company's testing kit can measure small particles in the air that can irritate lungs and sinuses—signs of Chinese drywall problems.

George says the tools they use are custom designed to test for specifically for Chinese drywall; at the same time there doesn't seem to be a consensus on exactly how to test. "We have spoken with a number of testing labs and have their input on how they test," says George, " then we put together a complete package. Once we test homes and think we have found contaminated drywall, we send the samples to a testing lab. We are trying to not do destructive testing, i.e., making holes in walls. Because we are a building engineering company we can go into a home and test by the odors that the drywall is emitting. And we check copper for deterioration.

"We are mainly concerned that people could have a health problem long before it shows up in the copper wiring or AC systems. Right now people are scared."

So far George has tested 15 homes, 10 of which were built with Chinese drywall. "I think there are more homes out there that have it but it is not obvious yet—nobody knows the time frame for corrosion," George says. "As well, we have had lenders calling us who have taken back homes in foreclosure and those homes have the Chinese drywall in it."

Who is Responsible?

"We believe that no home should be sold in this state that was built after 2000 without being tested for contaminated drywall," adds George. "That goes for all houses because we think that some American companies may have used the same process as the Chinese manufacturers to save money. We think they added the fly ash to speed up the drying process: money is saved on electrical bills by speeding up that process and electric is a major cost in the manufacture of drywall. Again, this is conjecture; unfortunately it seems to make sense.

"I do believe that builders didn't get breaks on the drywall--it is a commodity item. A builder would only specify the thickness and the type of drywall needed, not where it came from. And I don't think builders got discounts on it from the local suppliers. Right now everyone is pointing fingers at each other.

"Unfortunately the only solution currently available is to tear down your drywall and replace it but we are trying out other systems that may not be so drastic. You take apart people's walls and it is more difficult than you think: families are displaced for up to a few months. And most families do not have the extra cash to temporarily move. I wonder where people are going to live when their drywall is replaced. For homeowners, builders and suppliers, it is a no-win situation." Perhaps one solution for the homeowner is a lawsuit…

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