Journalism in the Public Interest

Drywall Woes Continue—Seeking Redress in Court Could Provide Little Relief

Homeowners affected by problems with defective drywall have been forced to fend for themselves and many have turned to the courts for help. Thousands of lawsuits have been consolidated and are being tried in federal court. But the homeowners’ chances of getting quick relief through private litigation are slim.


Remnants of Chinese drywall sit in an infested home in the Venetian Golf and River Club in Nokomis, Fla., on May 20, 2010. (Chip Litherland/Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

This past year, we teamed up with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune to produce a series of almost 20 stories about defective drywall that can release enough sulfur gasses to trigger respiratory problems and cause electric appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners to fail. Many of the families whose homes were built with the defective drywall say they've been financially devastated by the problem, since repairing a home with tainted drywall can cost $100,000 or more.

Most of the drywall was produced by manufacturers based in China, but almost 100 homeowners are alleging that some American-made drywall is causing similar problems.

So far, more than 3,700 people have complained to the Consumer Product Safety Commission about defective drywall. But public records gathered by the two news organizations show that nearly twice as many homes have been affected. You can see where many of these homes are located by using our news application.

As part of that story, we reported that the government's two-year probe into the Chinese drywall problem, led by the CPSC, was hamstrung by two factors. Federal agencies lack the authority to force foreign companies to recall defective products, reimburse people for problems those products may cause or even provide basic information about how the products were made. And no single federal agency is officially responsible for regulating residential indoor air quality or determining how it is affected by building products.

Due in large part to these gaps, homeowners have been forced to fend for themselves and many have turned to the courts for help. Thousands of lawsuits have been consolidated and are being tried now in New Orleans federal court.

But the homeowners' chances of getting quick relief through private litigation are slim. So far, only one of the companies responsible for producing the defective drywall has participated in the federal court proceedings. That company, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, has teamed up with several insurers and a drywall supplier, Interior Exterior Building Supply, to participate in a pilot program to remove the drywall and wiring from 300 homes built with Knauf board.

The other manufacturers, many of whom are at least partially owned by the Chinese government, don't appear inclined to follow Knauf's lead.

Attorneys for Taishan Gypsum Co., Ltd. told Judge Eldon E. Fallon, who is presiding over the litigation in New Orleans, that company officials "absolutely do not understand why their high-quality drywall allegedly emitted excessive amounts of hydrogen sulfide," Joe Cyr, the company's attorney said. "We're not right behind Knauf in any kind of settlement negotiations."

In August, Lowe's Companies Inc. negotiated a quiet deal in a separate lawsuit that provided big payouts to a handful of plaintiff's attorneys and relatively small amounts to homeowners. Two months after we reported on the settlement, however, Lowe's dramatically increased the amount of money it will offer customers whose health or homes were harmed by defective drywall they bought from its stores. Those customers are now eligible for up to $100,000 in cash, instead of the maximum $4,500 in cash and gift cards that was agreed upon in the previous settlement.

What is it going to take ?For something to be done for removel this defective drywall product.Two or three hundred people become fatilly ill as a result of this tainted product.My wife and i are starting to have resportory problems from breathing this hazardous acid smelling odor that is coming from the drywall .You only have to visit my home to smell what is effecting us.It is my wish something take place soon.

Where is our government, why are they not helping American Citizens with this issue.  Where is Bill Clinton, he signed NAFTA wasn’t that suppose to help us and not hurt us.  This Country is all about money, selfish Greed is taking over.  God help us,  our politicians only help themselves

Ross Perot said that if nafta was signed, we’d hear a sucking sound of jobs going south,..he was right.
Our government is owned by corporations and the banksters who run the fed in all their own interest.  They don’t care a flying ...... about the people of this country.  WHY BUY ANYTHING FROM CHINA???  They send us children’s toys laced with lead,. poisoned drywall, poisoned pet food.  they eat dogs, and are among the most cruel when it comes to animals.  I think it is all intentional on their part.  Almost every damned thing I pick up in the stores has “made in china”,.. I am a poor consumer,. I buy used, antique, second hand, goodwill,.. anywhere I can find AMERICAN or european made products.  I buy as little as I possibly can that is new or made in china,. mexico is a big problem too.  Levi’s made in mexico,. candy canes, made in mexico.  and we wonder why so many people here can’t find jobs.  And they leave open borders so illegal aliens can come in and work cheap, live 40 in a house, ruin neighborhoods, kill us driving drunk, home invasions.  Isn’t America a wonderful place?!

mmandrell cornett

Jan. 2, 2011, 10:20 a.m.

We have been trying to get minformation such as batch numbers or specific manufactures of said tainted drywall, but to no avail.
  Our purchase was made at a local Lowes store and they have helped us none. what recourse is avaliable to us? It seems that we the consumers are against the wall again.
A tax relief bill was signe but it stipulates that we must repair or replace our drywall , at out of pocket expensen then turn these reciepts into our tax agent to get compensation .
why is it always the low man on the totum pole

i guess all the bad stuff rolls downhill .
  any suggestions for a broke home owner?
  will there be any help for us ??

I believe itis time for the american middle and lower class people to say fuck the rich bankers and big business that own the federal reserve bank ( thats right,the federal govt has nothing to do with the federal reserve bank printed on our money) the dollar bill is no longer backed by the gold reserve.the dollar is actually worth nothing.Its paper !!!!!!! We need to get rid of the reserve bank owned by the Rockefeller type rich and bring back the standard banking practices.We need to stand up to our govt and tell them what we want for our country instead of voting for someone we hope will keep our interests in mind.We owe so much money to China that i think in less than 10 years your boss will be Chinese.Screw Chinese products and Nafta.

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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