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This HND piece starts with a walk down Chinese drywall memory lane, but ends up at a very current case. An unfortunate Florida homeowner—and we are certain that there are many more like him—got caught up in the state's nonsensical criteria for tainted and corrosive drywall.
In defense of the Sunshine State, it simply went along with the absurd recommendations of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and ASTM. CPSC chose orthorhombic sulfur (S8) as its qualifying standard, despite plenty of contrary data--and this was data that CPSC paid for, and represented superb analytical work. Another epic fail from CPSC, and from the once-respected ASTM.
Our friends at National Gypsum fought the good fight...and won. Although it had been established some time ago that Nat Gyp's products were not causing the problems in the plaintiff's homes, why let facts stand in the way of a lawsuit?
Finally, though, the suits have been dismissed. Read the press release.
The following is taken from my e-mail correspondence with a well-known consumer activist. Given her legal background, the most difficult concept for her is that conventional litigation will be of no use in this matter.
1. There is no American manufacturer of tainted and corrosive drywall. Sadly, much time was wasted by Florida homeowner Brenda Brincku in her misguided litigation crusade against National Gypsum.
National took samples of EVERY piece of drywall in her house, and ran chamber tests on them (costing about $800 per sample) and there are probably 150-200 sheets of drywall in her home. As it turned out, there were no elevated sulfide levels on any of them. I was shown all the samples by Craig Weisbruch, VP of National, and was given a free rein tour of their Florida manufacturing facility.
Extensive forensic analysis has indicated that the Brincku's corrosion problems derive from sulfur-contaminated ground water by their home—and this is not uncommon in Florida.
Essentially all copycat litigation against National has been thrown out of court.
2. As discussed, there is no possibility of any legal remedy, since—as you said—the true defendant is the Chinese government. In fact, the Chinese were unwilling to even cooperate with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, and a fight actually broke out in China when a CPSC official tried to grab a sample of tainted board that he saw in a Chinese factory.
Moreover, even the most basic questions went unanswered. The most obvious of which is this: What changed in their manufacturing process between 2005 and 2009? By 2009, board coming from the previously worst factory in China had significantly lower sulfide emissions. The Chinese refused to answer even this.
3. As to a cover-up, one does exist, but not for the obvious reasons alone. Now, I'm speaking as a sort of DC insider...
There have been many defective and dangerous products coming from China. This—all by itself—is a serious indictment of the "Close all domestic manufacturing industry so we can eliminate pollution" policy in place for the last 20 years. In fact, pollution has been imported from China, and jobs have been exported.
The failure of agencies like CPSC to act on Chinese drywall and several other matters puts to the lie the notion that our Federal government is protecting us. This epic failure is only underscored by the sensational recent failures of the FDA.
It may be difficult to cover up when FDA approved drugs like Avandia must be taken off the market, but it's easy enough for those still sympathetic to the notion of an all-powerful federal government to downplay Chinese drywall. Besides, in this case, we have the wrong victim group: Middle-class white people.
4. The only solution is for the lenders to be forced to extend the mortgages of these people—wrapping into them the cost of remediating their homes. After all, this is the least that the banks can do after having been propped up again and again by the Feds.
I'm referring to tainted and corrosive drywall imported from China, popularly called "Chinese drywall," even though not all Chinese product is tainted and corrosive.
While most of the attention has been focused on Florida, experts now think the problem is Texas will eventually surpass what is happening in Florida. Current estimates project more than 100,000 homes in the Lone Star state to have some degree of tainted drywall in them.
Our friends at Foreman and Associates have teamed up with Real Estate Training systems to offer a comprehensive seminar—intended for home inspectors and other interested parties—answering such real world questions as these:
What is tainted/corrosive "Chinese" sheetrock?
How to identify a structure that has it?
When was tainted sheetrock installed?
Why should I care?
How can it affect the client?
What is the repair or remediation?
How do I inspect for it?
What are the potential health issues?
What is my professional liability?
How can I best protect my client and myself?
Seminar attendees will be eligible for 16 hours of TREC (Texas Real Estate Commission) certified Continuing Education Credits.
You can't make this stuff up. After essentially telling their clients that they should be dancing in the streets over the Banner Supply settlement, the plaintiff's lawyers are now backsliding.
While the cover story is "more transparency," that can't be what they really want. After all, it was the transparency forced on this miserable joke of a settlement that got the shysters to react.
It seems that other people started to notice that the only thing actually specified in the settlement was the total amount of money available, and how much would be paid to the attorneys. Details regarding the client recovery are sketchy at best.
Even for plaintiff's lawyers, these guys are pretty stupid.
My latest HND piece takes a much-needed critical look at the latest nonsense being foisted on the poor victims of the Chinese drywall mess.
The greedy plaintiff's lawyers, led by chief perpetrator Arnold Levin, plan to split millions of dollars in fees, while the victims themselves will see no more than a few thousand—but even this small recovery is dubious, and is not nearly enough money to fix their homes.
Judge Eldon Fallon will likely not let this stand, but if he does, the homeowners are advised to use their small settlement to retain a bankruptcy attorney, declare Chapter 11, and walk away from their mortgages, since there will never be any relief for them.
Michael Foreman and I (as members of the ASTM committee investigating Chinese drywall) have been calling on the domestic gypsum industry to stand up, and present information on what it knows about the Chinese drywall mess. Sadly, the official position of the industry trade association has been to acknowledge that there is a problem with Chinese board, and that the domestic manufacturers are not involved—period.
I have tried in vain to convince association management that this stance is not good enough. When the only news about a product is uniformly bad, there is going to be blowback to the domestic industry—regardless of the facts. As it happens, I was right.
National Gypsum, unique in the domestic industry, has finally launched an extremely helpful and informative website, discussing the tainted and corrosive drywall matter in detail.
Of course, they were forced to do this since they found themselves the subject of a class action lawsuit. It is clear that the allegations against National are completely groundless, and I wish them all good luck.
They should be warned that science doesn't always win litigation, and proactive PR a few years ago could have done wonders. Still...better late than never.
Craig D. Weisbruch—National Gypsum's Sr. Vice President, Sales and Marketing—is to be commended.
Ace reporters Aaron Kessler and Joaquin Sapien are digging into the tragic deaths at Ft. Bragg, and won't stop until they get some definitive answers. Michael Foreman and I are honored to be part of this ongoing investigation.
Note that there were initial findings of tainted and corrosive (aka "Chinese") drywall, but these somehow melted away.
While there have been no confirmed deaths due to tainted and corrosive drywall, it is conceivable that vulnerable infants, with some respiratory issue, could be seriously affected.
However, there seems to be a very odd lack of focus here. You would think that if the goal is to establish cause of death in these babies, there would have been extensive postmortem studies, including a comprehensive toxicology panel. If this has occurred, the Government is certainly keeping quiet about it.
Instead, we are treated to a 134-page report on the drywall and indoor air quality of the affected residences, and even then, the drywall was not subjected to a definitive chamber test.
One is left to wonder just how much our leaders really care about our fighting men and women. Perhaps the Army is taking full advantage of the situation whereby the unfortunate military parents can't complain too aggressively, for fear of ruining their careers.
Kind of gives a new meaning to the old cliché "Our boys," doesn't it?
Foreman and Associates, Inc. has been leading the way in Chinese drywall (more appropriately called tainted corrosive drywall) testing and remediation since August, 2008. Bear in mind that the Consumer Product Safety Commission—the lead federal agency on this matter—officially started receiving complaints in December, 2008.
In October, 2009, I was involved in organizing an ASTM workgroup with the task of creating an inspection protocol for tainted corrosive drywall. Shortly thereafter, I recruited Foreman into the workgroup.
In January of 2010, Foreman submitted his then proprietary protocol to the workgroup, in the hopes of jump-starting our activities. Beyond modifying his document to put it in conformance with the ASTM format, little more would have been required. Yet, for a number of reasons—none of them good—almost no progress was made toward approving the protocol until November.
Suffice to say that there were a variety of political elements at play, as well crass commercial interests on the part of the so-called "technical contact" of the workgroup—who is in the business of selling certifications in various aspects of tainted drywall evaluation. Amazingly, this same individual is still a proponent of the long-discredited use of x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) as a tool in inspecting for tainted corrosive drywall.
As it happens, the progress that did occur in November was solely as a result of one member, who fashioned essentially a simplified version of what Foreman had submitted almost 11 months earlier. This simplified version was actually submitted to the workgroup in August, but inexplicably, no action was taken until an official committee meeting in November.
I will spare you the details regarding the unprecedented rancor and less than robust ASTM management oversight that has marred this workgroup from its very outset.
Frustrated with the endless delays and grotesque politics, Foreman has made his formerly proprietary document freely available to all.
It's taken well over a year, but the domestic gypsum wallboard industry has now been brought into the tainted and corrosive drywall mess. I'm basing this time interval on when the problems of Florida homeowners George and Brenda Brincku were first publicized (April, 2009). The Brinckus' home showed all the symptoms of Chinese drywall, but there was no Chinese drywall in their house. My latest HND piece covers the story.
It was easy enough for National Gypsum—whose product made up the bulk of what was installed at the Brinkus' home—to simply deny what was going on, or at best dismiss it as "anomalous." But now, 97 homeowners in four states have joined lawsuits against U.S. drywall manufacturers, claiming that their drywall is releasing enough sulfur gas to corrode wiring and appliances and cause headaches, nosebleeds, labored breathing, and irritated eyes. These, of course, are the familiar complaints that have been associated with Chinese drywall.
I have long been a critic of the domestic gypsum industry and its trade association for their utter silence on this matter. Now that one of their own has been implicated, will they finally speak up?
Unfortunately, the industry is not the only problem here. Far too many plaintiff's attorneys and their so-called "experts" are doing their best to spend their clients money, for testing that is not definitive. Inasmuch as a method exists, which is 100% definitive for tainted and corrosive drywall—the Chamber test—this sort of conduct is shameful, and may even constitute fraud.
We also check in with good guy construction industry consultant and consumer advocate Michael Foreman, who offers some practical no-nonsense advice, as usual.