It's an issue that began in the early 2000s. But because the building material in question is meant to be installed permanently, its effects are still lingering. And for some homes, it may linger for even a few more years. The product is a type of drywall often called Chinese drywall and it has been plaguing homes, mainly across the U.S. South, for the last couple of decades.
What It Is and Why It's a Problem
Chinese drywall is a term for an issue involving about 100,000 homes in 20 states, where the drywall used in those homes has been found to be inferior. It does not involve all drywall produced in China. To this day, China is a major exporter of drywall to the U.S. Most of this product is up to standard.
Not long ago, the Chinese drywall issue seemed to be a minor problem. Now, not only has this issue expanded to include more homes, but the severity of the problem has increased.
Some drywall coming from plants in China has been found to include phosphogypsum, a radioactive phosphorus substance. Phosphogypsum contains radium. Exposure to radium, over time, can increase your risk for lung cancer. The EPA banned the use of phosphogypsum for U.S. firms in 1989. Its usage is not banned in China.
In addition, this substance is corrosive, which can lead to structural failure. Copper electrical wiring or air conditioning evaporator coils are often found to be blackened. Most of this discoloring indicates corrosion. Corrosion means that the pipes may fail (leading to water damage) or the wiring may fail (resulting in injury or failure of the entire electrical system).
How to Determine If You Have Chinese Drywall
Here are some ways to narrow down the question of whether you have Chinese drywall containing phosphogypsum in your home. Not all conditions need to be present for your home to be affected by the Chinese drywall issue.
- Foul, sulfurous odors coming from your walls.
- Metal in contact with relatively new drywall is corroding quickly.
- Copper, in particular, will corrode rapidly in contact with poor drywall from China. Green corrosion is normal; black corrosion is not normal.
- Black corrosion on wiring.
- Appliances and electronics inexplicably failing (they have copper wiring, which can corrode).
- Drywall is newer than 2001.
- Drywall was installed between 2006 and 2007 following either Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Rita.
- Markings on the backside of walls (i.e., in laundry rooms, basements, or other places where you might find unfinished drywall) clearly indicate that the drywall may have a Chinese origin. Chinese characters would indicate Chinese origin. Also the word "Knauf" will indicate this, as this was the name of the drywall manufacturer.
What to Do When You Have It
The best solution to the Chinese drywall issue is to remove all of the Chinese drywall from your home, fix affected areas, and then install new drywall.
All of the drywall must be removed and disposed of in an approved method. Once the walls are open, the wiring should be inspected by electricians and the plumbing should be inspected by plumbers. Any items found to be corroded or otherwise affected by the drywall should be replaced.
Remember that drywall is friable, so it could be risky for you to remove the material yourself. Unlike air-borne hazardous materials like lead-based paint and asbestos, phosphogypsum-based drywall cannot be sealed with a coat of paint.
Chinese Drywall Lawsuits
So, removal and replacement is not the real question; that is a given. The real question is who will pay for the work. Many homeowners joined class-action lawsuits in an attempt to recover damages.
Not only are the homeowners seeking to recover the cost of the drywall but more importantly, they want to recover the significant damages to their homes.
The largest of these class action lawsuits is the one that was finally settled in 2019, in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, between homeowners and Taishan Gypsum Co. This suit was settled for $248 million. Another lawsuit eight years previously involved Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co.
The Taishan suit took over a decade to settle due to the slow, circuitous nature of lawsuits but also because Taishan refused to show in court in 2014.