Journalism in the Public Interest

CPSC Report on U.S.-Made Drywall Raises More Questions Than Answers

The CPSC’s new report on American-made drywall says ‘agency resource constraints’ limited the investigation into whether American-made drywall is causing problems like those associated with Chinese-made drywall.



Is American-made drywall causing the same problems that have been linked to tainted Chinese-made drywall?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission released a report this week that was supposed to help answer that question, but the report has so many gaps that homeowners, lawyers and drywall experts say it has only added to their confusion and frustration.

The agency studied 11 homes which, according to their owners, were built with U.S.-made drywall but are exhibiting problems typically associated with Chinese drywall. The report said drywall in five of the houses was "consistent with problem drywall," which releases so much sulfur gas that it causes respiratory problems and corrodes wiring. But the CPSC said it couldn't draw any conclusions about American drywall from its investigation, because it couldn't confirm that all the drywall in the homes was made in the United States. To do that would require "further extensive investigation and detailed documentation of the origin of the drywall in these homes," the report said.

The CPSC did not respond to questions about why it did not take those extra steps. The agency refused to make a CPSC official available to discuss the report.

The CPSC also decided not to conduct additional tests on four homes where the results were inconclusive, even though the company that tested the homes for the CPSC recommended they be done. Many experts say those tests, called chamber tests, are the most reliable way to measure how much sulfur gas a piece of drywall is producing. But the report said the agency didn't authorize those tests, or any further study of American drywall, because of "the relatively limited number of homes affected, the uncertainty concerning the drywall's origins (and) agency resource constraints."

Jack Frost, a biochemist whose company has tested drywall in nearly 3,000 homes, said the CPSC's decision not to authorize the chamber tests and not to figure out who manufactured the drywall in the 11 homes was "nuts."

"How they have all these brilliant scientists and do a report like this is just incomprehensible to me," Frost said.

Brenda Brincku, whose Alva, Fla., home was among those tested by the CPSC, was also mystified by the report. She and her family moved out of their home in 2009 after they began having bloody noses and headaches and their electronic equipment began failing. Now they're struggling to pay rent and keep up their mortgage payments. Their financial problems are so bad, Brincku said, that she couldn't afford to attend her daughter's wedding in the Virgin Islands.

The CPSC report said tests showed that the Brinckus' drywall wasn't producing sulfur gases. But according to the report, the contractors who conducted those tests said that because the home's wiring was corroded, chamber tests should be done to make sure the board was safe.

When Brincku asked the CPSC why it didn't do the chamber tests, she said she was told the agency couldn't afford to take that extra step.

"I just couldn't believe it. 'You don't have money to look into this? You had the money for the Chinese drywall problem, didn't you?' " Brincku said. "But they insisted that they couldn't do chamber tests because they are out of funding."

The Brinckus say their house was built with two brands of U.S.-made drywall and that tests they commissioned show it is producing high levels of sulfur gasses. They have filed a lawsuit against one of those manufacturers, Charlotte-based National Gypsum, which has told ProPublica that its tests showed that the Brinckus' drywall is not producing sulfur gas.

Craig Weisbruch, National Gypsum's senior vice president for sales and marketing, said the CPSC's failure to trace the origin of the drywall in the homes made the report meaningless.

"Almost any time that you have one of these Chinese drywall problems in a house you are going to find American drywall in the house too given the nature of construction," he said. "But because of the method they used, we can't tell what kind of board they tested."

National Gypsum has said that it found no Chinese drywall in the Brincku home.

Pamela Gilbert, who was a CPSC executive director in the Clinton administration, said it was disappointing that the agency has decided not to continue studying American-made drywall.

"It's a shame, because so many resources have been spent on Chinese drywall problems, and the CPSC was unable to move forward with that because the perpetrators were in China and unreachable," said Gilbert, who is now a partner with the law firm Cuneo, Gilbert & LaDuca, which represents some of the nearly 100 homeowners who are suing National Gypsum. "Here you have a situation where there is a problem and American companies could be pursued by CPSC, but they have chosen to cut the investigation short."

The CPSC's report on American drywall is the latest in a string of government reports and announcements that have confused and disappointed families who say their homes have been contaminated by defective drywall.

In March, the CPSC reversed its earlier recommendation that the wiring in the homes be removed because it was a potential fire hazard. That decision conflicts with guidelines created by Judge Eldon E. Fallon, who is presiding over the massive Chinese drywall litigation playing out in New Orleans federal court. Fallon's guidelines still recommend removing all the wiring.

In February, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control told CNN that it will not pursue a scientific study on the long-term health effects of living in a home built with contaminated drywall because such a study would take too long, cost too much money and would not produce conclusive results.

Also in February, drywall experts criticized the CPSC for not using chamber tests to help determine whether the drywall in homes on a North Carolina military base could have led to the deaths of 11 infants. The death toll has since climbed to 12, and the military is still searching for an underlying cause.

They (CPSC & other govt entities) have no shame and no compulsion to get to the bottom of this whole mess. The same type of cover-up that is holding back information about the dozen infants that have died of undetermined causes in military housing at Ft. Bragg (very close to Charlotte-based National Gypsum) from Feb. 24, 2007- Feb. 24, 2011 (when my preciougrandsons, Jaxson, became the 12th baby on this dreadful list) is at play here. What are you keeping from the American public, CONSUMER Product SAFETY Commission? Who are you REALLY protecting???????????? (one questiomark for each of our 12 precious babies whose lives were not protected…)

This approach is something one would expect in a Third World Country. CPSC, CDC and the Federal response is an embarrassment to the American people. Disgusting!

This is another example of our government failing in its’ responsibility to protect the citizens of the country.  For some reason, our government can find money to provide protection to rebels in Libya, provide billions of dollars in foreign aid to country’s that are anything but friendly-numerous other examples could be cited but why bore you-but the government cannot find the money to inspect, examine and determine if a given product is causing serious injury to its’ citizens. 

Actually, I don’t think this is a matter of money at all.  After all, things are very rarely what we think or are told they are.  Corollary issues concerning this dry wall come to my mind, specifically, FEMA trailers provided for Hurricane Katrina.  All of the KATRINA trailers provided by FEMA were manufactured with dry wall that made the occupants sick.  The fumes in these trailers were so bad, many people couldn’t sleep or live in the trailers for weeks, until the fumes dissipated.  Ergok, should the CPSC produce test showing dry wall manufactured and used in home construction is having such ill effects, such results could be employed in a law suit against the manufacturers of the trailers and the federal government.

Penny Boulanger

April 23, 2011, 6:59 p.m.

Remember, we have the best government money can buy and the buyers are the big corporations.  Wish I were not so cynical, but it is demonstrated every day inside the Beltway.

The CPSCS’ refusal to continue testing this product smells of collusion between the industry manufacturers and the CPSC.  Someone(s) within the CPSC is “on the take” and is protecting the US manufacturers of this product.
Such is the nature of the governmental agencies having the responsibility of protecting the citizens from substandard and faulty products.  One needs only examine other governmental agencies such as the USDA, FDA, SEC, to find that many in top areas of responsibility and those heading these agencies are all “political transplants” from the respective industries they have sworn to regulate and investigate.  Reminds one of the adage, “the foxes are guarding the hen house.”

Political transplants as in the “Wrecking Crew (author Thomas Frank)” no doubt.  Disgusting.  We need to take charge of our government and once and for all, put these idiots who cater only to big business in the unemployment line.  Total boycotts can work, they will get the message…A new adage, “weasels are now guarding the hen houses”.

Suppose we dealt with some what if’s for a moment. What if the US made drywall does not have a problem OR if it does it’s because the limestone particles used for chimney flue cleaning in our elec generating plants are either used for too long thereby collecting too much sulphur (because limestone plus sulphur makes gypsum) or too short a time thereby leaving calc carb or limestone unspent and therefor available to support mould growth. But what if the Chinese used freely available carbide lime (the co-production of acetalene gas) as the filler material in gypsum ? Then you would have an unmistakable odour of suphfur right ?

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Tainted Drywall

Tainted Drywall: How Companies Kept Silent While Homeowners Suffered

Foul air from Chinese-made drywall has created a nightmare for thousands of homeowners.

The Story So Far

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.
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