By Lee Weyhrich
This final installment of The Tribune’s series on Chinese drywall contains parts four and five of the five-part series. This week, the series will cover health issues caused by contaminated drywall
. The names of the families in this series have been changed at the families’ requests.
For many people, owning their dream home has become a nightmare. This isn’t because of the economy. Nor is it a matter of people overextending themselves on their finances. These people have become victims to the houses themselves, or more accurately the Chinese-made drywall within these houses. Several Trussville homes in the upper-scale Long Meadows neighborhood near the Trussville Civic Center were built using the now infamous material and these homeowners lives have been changed forever.
According to court documents, many plaintiffs have complained about health problems, such as skin and eye irritation, respiratory issues, nosebleeds and headaches from the Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., Ltd. drywall in their homes.
Trussville resident Becky Farmer’s 11-year-old son and six-year-old daughter have shown respiratory issues and Farmer’s mother has had spontaneous nosebleeds.
“I’m an oncology nurse,” Farmer said. “I wonder what it will do long term for my children. We don’t know the long-term effects of what this has done.”
Farmer’s neighbor Katie Banks also fears for the health of her children.
Multi-District Litigation 2047 came about as a response to the growing number of Federal court cases and complaints filed in regards to Chinese drywall. It is presided over by Judge Elton E. Fallon and is based in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana. The MDL has been the transferee of all current and future Chinese drywall cases since 2009.
The official statement of both the court and Knauf is that no long-term studies have been done to show a link between this wall board and health issues. Several of the chemicals found in the Chinese gypsum board have had long-term health studies. The problem with narrowing down the chemicals in the drywall is that different agencies have found different chemicals in various samples.
Chemical & Engineering News reports the presence of carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide and hydrogen sulfide in one sample. The Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health identified only iron sulfide in its sample, and the Florida Department of Health found strontium sulfide. To date, no study has found the household levels of any of these chemicals to be above health regulatory standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists more than 20 health issues from carbon disulfide ranging from chest pains, headaches and nausea to cancer, birth defects, organ failure, reproductive issues and major developmental issues in children. According to the EPA, carbonyl sulfide was found to show an increase in cholesterol in animals, though no human study on the effects of this chemical in drywall has been conducted. However, possible side effects of humans exposed to carbonyl sulfide include giddiness, memory loss, nausea and vomiting. The EPA states that hydrogen sulfide is highly toxic, has a strong smell of eggs and quickly corrodes copper and silver, both often associated with Chinese drywall. It is linked with stillbirths, convulsions, eye irritation and, in animal studies, skin problems.
The CTEH study that found iron disulfide claims that the substance poses no health issues for occupants. CTEH explains that the iron disulfide mineral is the source of the sulfur-containing compounds emitted from the drywall. When the drywall is exposed to high heat and humidity, the sulfur compounds react with the vapor to form highly-corrosive sulfuric acid that attacks metals such as copper and silver included in many home fixtures and systems. The only harmful side effect of this process is the smell. Knauf claims that the CTEH study proves its product can not be linked to health issues.
The only known side effect of strontium sulfide, even at high concentrations, is bone weakness.
While the health ramifications are not yet known for those exposed long-term to Chinese drywall, the EPA is still in the process of collecting reports. The U.S. House of Representatives, however, passed legislation Sept. 20 that will set chemical standards for imported and domestic drywall. The Contaminated Drywall Safety Act of 2012 makes Chinese-produced drywall a regulated hazardous substance under the Consumer Product Safety Act. This means that no more contaminated drywall may be imported into the U.S. and guidelines are being written up for the proper disposal of drywall already here.
The 1986 comedy “The Money Pit” stars Tom Hanks and Shelley Long as a young couple who buys a dream home, only to realize that it has begun falling apart almost as soon as they move in. For those affected by KPT drywall, there is nothing funny about what has happened to them.
These people worry about their families’ health. They worry about the expenses not covered by the Knauf settlement. They worry about the percentage of Chinese drywall they have, or what company makes it. They have to worry about what their house will be like after the work is over. They even have to worry about whether they will be able to get their money back out of their houses if they ever decide to sell, since the presence of this substance makes a house unsellable.
“The other thing we’re worried about is resale,” Banks said. “Once the repairs are over, we do receive a legal document to the fact that all traces of this have been removed. We were very fortunate to have Knauf drywall and that they have stepped up to say ‘we made a mistake and will remediate.’”
Farmer, too, is looking to the bright side of this ordeal.
“We will come back to a brand-new house,” she said.
To read the previous story, click here.