Accountability, Studies and Chinese Drywall

Along with implementing the overreaching Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s other priority this year has been addressing public complaints about contaminated Chinese drywall. The housing boom and post-Katrina reconstruction led to a shortage of domestic drywall, with imports of the Chinese product filling the gap. But the Chinese drywall has reportedly caused health problems in the people who live or work in the buildings — especially across southern states where the product is more prevalent.

On Thursday, the CPSC and other federal agencies released the initial results of a round of tests on domestic and imported drywall. The key findings:

The study found that sulfur gases were either not present or were present in only limited or occasional concentrations inside the homes, and only when outdoor levels of sulfur compounds in the air were elevated.

The indoor air study did lead to a preliminary finding of detectable concentrations of two known irritant compounds, called acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. These irritant compounds were detected in homes both with and without Chinese drywall, and at concentrations that could worsen conditions such as asthma in sensitive populations, when air conditioners were not working or turned off. The levels of formaldehyde were not unusual for new homes and were higher in homes where air conditioners were not working or turned off.

Although formaldehyde was found, when the air conditioning was turned on, it was not at levels that have been found to cause health symptoms.

The CPSC is quick to emphasize that these are only initial findings, reports continue to come in, and there is much more work to do. The commission has developed a good website with resources, the Drywall Information Center.

For now, we’ll say Chairman Inez Tenenbaum delivered good remarks in Beijing on Monday at the U.S.-China Consumer Product Safety Summit:

The seriousness of this issue can not be underestimated. I appeal to companies in the Chinese drywall supply chain to examine carefully their responsibilities to U.S. consumers who are suffering from problems in their homes and to do what is fair and just in each case, if their products are involved and I want to underscore if their products are involved.

That’s right. Foreign manufacturers need to accept responsibility for their products.

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