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Story So Far: “Tainted Drywall”

ProPublica and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune began examining in May 2010 what was—or wasn’t—being done to help people whose homes had been built with contaminated drywall. The problematic drywall, much of it imported from China, emitted foul odors and frequently caused mysterious failures of new appliances and electronics. Worse yet, some residents complained of serious respiratory problems, bloody noses, and migraines.

ProPublica and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune began examining in May 2010 what was—or wasn't—being done to help people whose homes had been built with contaminated drywall. The problematic drywall, much of it imported from China, emitted foul odors and frequently caused mysterious failures of new appliances and electronics. Worse yet, some residents complained of serious respiratory problems, bloody noses, and migraines.

What ProPublica's Joaquin Sapien and the Herald-Tribune's Aaron Kessler discovered: that despite an investigation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), most of the primary issues remained unresolved; that some builders and suppliers knew early-on that some Chinese-made drywall was problematic but continued using it anyway; that health and structural complaints from people who lived in homes built by Habitat for Humanity in the post-Katrina "Musicians' Village" were virtually ignored; that a family-owned German company was closely involved in the operations of a Chinese subsidiary that produced some of the tainted drywall; that a proposed settlement for customers who bought bad drywall from Lowe's offered small payouts to victims and big fees to attorneys; and that bad drywall might be related to 12 infant deaths at an Army base in North Carolina. We also discovered that almost 7,000 homeowners said they had been affected by tainted drywall, almost double the number listed on the CPSC's website, and created an interactive database so the public could access this information.

Our work highlighted the need for a better understanding of the full extent of the drywall problem so solutions could be found. In fact, the German-owned drywall subsidiary is now participating in a pilot program to remediate 300 homes. Within days of our Habitat for Humanity story, the organization announced that it would establish a task force to research the defective drywall issue. And weeks later, Habitat began testing its homes for defective drywall and began making repairs after it found that nearly a quarter had electrical corrosion issues.

In response to our story that questioned its initial proposal, Lowe's dramatically improved its settlement offer to customers who purchased bad drywall, offering as much as $100,000 each as opposed to the previous plan's $4,500 in cash and gift cards.

Recently, Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Mark Warner (R-VA), asked the CPSC to schedule public hearings and allow homeowners to comment on CPSC's new and somewhat confusing remediation plans for homes built with defective drywall. The CPSC also released a report that claimed to have eliminated contaminated drywall as the cause of the Fort Bragg infant deaths, but experts told ProPublica the tests the agency had performed were "unreliable and incomplete."

The bottom line is that this reporting is making a difference. And we're proud that ProPublica's work is helping businesses and government find a way to help these homeowners.

Bonnie mitchell

April 5, 2011, 5:54 a.m.

Don’t you wonder how many people are exposed to the contaminated drywall at work also?  Many small strip malls were built or repaired around this same time.

What truely is the right number of contaminated homes is but a guess. One can only assume that the goverment count is because they can’t let this get out of control. Same as the case of health issues, in recognizing the fall out from telling the truth one could acertain if be better to down play all information concerning CDW. The stark reality is that how many subject homes are truely a untold number at this time. Health issues arising from this contaminated wall board will not totally be known for many years.In the short term objective resonable health monitoring of all home owners in affected homes is best.As far as the flawed number of cases this has to dealt with on every level in the housing industry to the top goverment agencies so we do not continue to pass these homes through the housing cycle time and time again.The constant denial as to who is going to pay and who is going to remediate what, only shows to the total irresponsibilty of the parties involved. You did it you fix it.

It is a travesty that no one in the state or federal government cares enough to agressively pursue this problem. We who are victims are completely forgotten.

The party affiliation of Sen. Mark Warner is incorrect. He is the junior senator from Virginia and is a Democrat.

The former Senator John Warner was the Republican.

Dan: it’s not even that they don’t *care*, except at the top. They genuinely don’t have the money or the investigators to properly pursue this themselves.

That’s what the last 30 years has been about, crippling regulatory agencies with repeated budget cuts.

no one really gets it ... the culprit for the ills of this country , has been , and always will be ” capitalism ” ....the good old U $ A ...it’s all about the powerful millionaires and their bottom line ....

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