During the recent U.S. housing-construction boom, builders were desperate for materials, and drywall was especially in demand. Before 2005, drywall imports to the U.S. from China were negligible; since 2006, however, more than 550 million pounds of it has been shipped to the U.S. -- primarily to Florida. The drywall was used to build more than 60,000 homes in at least a dozen states.
Drywall is made from gypsum, a soft mineral, that is pressed between thick paperboard. Plaintiffs' attorneys say the allegedly toxic drywall material probably originated in at least one gypsum mine in China.
The problem came to light last year as homeowners began commiserating on the Internet about rotten-egg smells in their houses and rashes of nosebleeds and other ailments. At the same time, air-conditioner repairmen began complaining to builders about copper-coil corrosion in newly built houses. The air-conditioning companies concluded it was caused by high levels of airborne sulfur and moldy toxins. Wires in outlets, appliances and lamps started corroding as well.
More than 60,000 homes across the country, most of them in Florida, contain drywall from China that may be emitting sulfuric odors and exposing homeowners to respiratory health problems, nosebleeds, headaches, insomnia and sore joints, among other complaints.
The emissions are also corroding air conditioning coils and electronic equipment, which is ruining electronics and could pose the risk of electrical fires.
The problem is so severe in South Florida that congressman Rep. Robert Wexler wrote a letter to the state’s governor asking him to declare a state of emergency because the health and safety risks associated with Chinese drywall are similar to the impact of a hurricane or other natural disaster.
Already at least four class-action lawsuits have been filed in Florida and others have been filed in California, Louisiana and Alabama. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is also investigating the complaints.
A String of Toxic Products from China
China’s economy has been growing at a rate of nearly 10 percent annually for the last 30 years, largely because they are exporting massive amounts of products across the globe.
They’re widely known for producing affordable (cheap) goods, and in recent years have made quite the name for themselves as a producer of toxic goods as well. Aside from this latest revelation of toxic Chinese drywall, the United States has been grappling with a string of toxic disasters from China, which include:
Toothpaste and other Chinese-made toiletries that have been found to contain a toxic chemical used to make antifreeze
Pet food ingredients laced with toxic melamine
Imported livestock quarantined for disease and banned chemical contaminants
Catfish fillets from Chinese aquatic farms tainted with bacteria and heavy metals
Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical
Mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides
How Can You Tell if Your Home has Chinese Drywall?
Although The Florida Department of Health says tests show levels of emissions from the Chinese drywall pose no "immediate health threat," affected homeowners are still worried about potential health effects, not to mention the impact on their property values.
Signs that your house may be affected include:
The odor of rotten eggs
Frequent repairs on your home’s air conditioning system, wiring or pipes
Health symptoms including irritated eyes, respiratory problems, nosebleeds and headaches that resolve when you leave your home
According to the Web site of one law firm investigating potential lawsuits against the companies, builders and manufacturers responsible for the Chinese drywall problems, the problem may be related to the presence of iron disulfide (FeS2 pyrite), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbonyl sulfide, sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon disulfide (CS2) in the material.
If the Chinese drywall is indeed emitting hydrogen sulfide fumes, it could be a serious problem. The Web site continues:
“Exposure to 50 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide for more than ten minutes can cause extreme irritation. Inhalation of 500 to 1,000 parts per million can cause unconsciousness and death through respiratory paralysis and asphyxiation, according to environmental experts.”
If you suspect your home may be at risk, contact your state’s Department of Health, your home’s builder and also an attorney for help.
Other Toxins to Watch Out for in Your Home
Products from China are not the only ones tainting our houses and office buildings. Any number of potentially toxic substances exist freely around us in our daily lives.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are toxic gases emitted from paints, cleansers, air fresheners, vinyl floors, carpets, upholstery fabrics, and much more, can cause cancer and damage to your liver, kidney and central nervous system.
VOCs in the indoor air of new buildings have been found to average 20 to 40 mg per m3. Adverse health effects may begin with exposure at just 10 mg per m3.
Certain pressure-treated wood products used for decks and playground equipment are treated with pesticides that contain arsenic.
Engineered wood products commonly used to make cabinets, furniture, wall paneling and more emit pollutants such as formaldehyde into your home’s air.
This is truly only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the chemicals floating around most homes and office buildings.
In order for you to be truly healthy, your home needs to supply you with adequate opportunity to rest and relax. It needs to nurture, as it is only through this that you can truly recuperate at the end of the day and recharge with the strength to deal with the next day‘s emotional and physical stresses.
Unfortunately, many are now residing in homes that only add to their chemical loads and emotional stresses.
Is it Possible to Make Your Living Environment Healthier?
You may not be able to build a new “all-natural” home or office for yourself, but you can make small changes to bring more natural and healthy materials into your living spaces by:
Filtering your home’s air using a high-quality air purification system like the one we have identified.
Redoing a portion of your home with a natural material, such as bamboo flooring.
Avoiding all chemical cleansers, air fresheners and detergents, and switching to natural varieties instead.
Installing full-spectrum lighting to bring the benefits of natural sunlight indoors.
Adding houseplants to your home and office.
Getting outside to spend some time in a natural environment as often as possible.
You can also look into Bau-Biologie (German for "Building Biology").
The Bau-Biologie standard is used in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- as a benchmark to professional and independent measurements in houses. The goal is to create an environment as close to nature as possible to best support your physical health and mental well-being.