Toxic Drywall Report: Will U.S. Agency Crack Down or Duck and Cover?
Posted by admin on 10/30/2009
Last week, Inez Tenenbaum, Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, went to China for the third biennial US-China Consumer Product Safety Summit. Yes, I know; I almost fell out of my chair too – but there really is such a thing. Although Ms. Tennebaum sidestepped a question about toxic Chinese drywall during a press conference in Beijing, she did sign a joint agreement stating that the U.S. and China will continue to “cooperate” on drywall issues. Signing for China was the Vice Minister of the General Administration of Supervision and Inspection. Supervision? Inspection? Seriously? I’m channeling a future South Park episode. The value of the agreement roughly equates to the cost of the paper upon which it was written. Meanwhile, back in the real world where the rest of us live, the drywall problem continues to worsen. The drywall imported from China between 2004 – 2008 is contaminated with chemical agents that emit noxious gases and fumes. It has corroded plumbing, turned copper wiring into black mush, and caused numerous health problems in both people and their pets. The CPSC has reported problems in 24 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. The risk management and economic consulting firm of Towers Perrin has set the amount required to fix the problem at between $15 – 25 billion. Homebuilders have taken some steps to address repairs to homes where they installed bad drywall. Lennar Homes has set aside $40 million, DR Horton-- $9 million, with Ryland trying to figure out where to find the $5 – 6 million it estimates it will need for repairs. Louisiana is currently using $5 million in federal housing grants to cure some of its drywall problems. As over 90% of the claims come from Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia, the latter two states should consider similar programs. However, none of this will cover the cost of drywall removal, replacement of corroded building material and personal items (refrigerators, wooden furniture, wall frames and even jewelry), as well as health expenses for dogs, cats and people. China’s toxic drywall is a $25 billion snowball rolling down a hill littered with additional expenses The first federal report on the drywall problem is expected from the CPSC sometime this week. Ms. Tenenbaum has toured toxic drywall homes and enlisted other government agencies to perform tests on the drywall as well as in some of the affected homes. One does not have to be rocket scientist to stand in an affected home, smell the rotten eggs odor, view the corroded materials, read the “made in China” stamp on the drywall - and then connect the dots. But will the obvious come as clearly to the federal government? Most interesting in the government’s report will be the responsibility and role it assigns to China and its manufacturers that knowingly created an unsafe product and sent it to the U.S. The final question may be a political one. Will the CPSC dance around the issue, mindful of China’s ever-increasing influence over our economy -- or will it say that the problem is directly attributable to China and demand that it cover the costs of the mess it made? China may be able to avoid responsibility for the toxic drywall, but American officials will not. Let's hope that the CPSC report gives federal and state officials the base they need to set real solutions into motion.
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