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.