Homeowners press Congress on toxic Chinese drywall
December 07, 2010
As lawsuits against Chinese wallboard manufacturers make their way through American courts, homeowners say they are struggling without financial relief to renovate their homes. They want the Chinese government to speed up cash settlements -- and they want U.S. officials to make it happen.
"The Chinese government isn't being held accountable for a toxic product," said Kelley Spellman, one of about a dozen homeowners from Southeastern states who aired their grievances Monday to U.S. senators. "Nobody is stepping up to the plate to be accountable."
Spellman has spent more than $100,000 tearing out the toxic drywall in her condo in Dade County, Fla., she said. After she began removing it, she learned of an April 2010 federal court ruling that called for repairs to include replacing a home's electrical components, new appliances and flooring.
She said she wants the federal government to loan her and others money to pay for the fixes until the Chinese producers pay. "All my credit cards are maxed out," Spellman said.
The homeowners also demonstrated outside the Senate office building, carrying signs. They had a simple message: We need your help holding Chinese drywall companies accountable for their actions.
The toxic drywall -- which can release a rotten-egg smell, destroys electrical equipment and sometimes leads to breathing problems -- has devastated thousands of American homeowners in the last two years. The tainted material, imported and used during last decade's construction boom, is estimated to have been used in 60,000 to 100,000 homes, primarily in Florida and Louisiana.
Those noxious fumes and electrical damage have resulted in more than 3,700 complaints from residents in 40 states, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency that investigated the material.
Thousands of lawsuits have targeted homebuilders, drywall distributors and Chinese manufacturers. Some homeowners are not sure they will ever get reimbursed for the renovation fee.
One major manufacturer, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., has begun to settle cases, but another has ignored legal action.
Robert Gurnee's house in Virginia Beach, Va., smells like gunpowder from toxic Chinese wallboard, he said. He does not have the estimated $300,000 necessary to tear out and replace the toxic material, but Gurnee and his wife still are living there and waiting for renovation funds from Taishan Gypsum.
That manufacturing company, owned by the Chinese government, has ignored legal action proceeding against it, he said.
"There's been a lot of lip service paid, but no action. We don't seem to be able to get anybody to pressure the Chinese," he said. "We can talk about it all we want, but until someone pressures the Chinese government, I don't think we are going to get anywhere."
E-mail SHNS reporter Isaac Wolf at wolfi(at)shns.com