WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance announced today a hearing to examine the current health, housing and product safety issues contaminated drywall poses for homeowners. Specifically, the hearing will review the Federal and local responses to the contaminated drywall problem and ongoing homeowner concerns since the Subcommittee’s initial drywall hearing in May 2009.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) RockefellerU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Owning a home is a dream for most Americans. Starting in 2001, the United States experienced an enormous housing boom. Millions of Americans transitioned from renters to homeowners, and others started remodeling projects they had long been saving for. The construction industry thrived but had to find new ways to meet consumer demand.
Facing a serious shortage of domestic drywall, many homebuilders sought drywall with materials mined in China. Companies such as Taian Taishan Plasterboard Co. and Knauff Plasterboard Co. shipped drywall to the U. S. to account for increased demand. Thousands of homes were built this way, and families moved in completely unaware of any difference in the quality of their drywall or the lurking problem in their walls that was soon coming.
Homeowners soon started to complain about a rotten egg smell permeating their house, and that their piping and air conditioning units were corroding. Even more troubling, people started showing up at the doctor’s office complaining of bloody noses, breathing problems, and headaches. The health and product safety concerns were evident, but also undefined. Federal and state agencies, homeowners, and other industry stakeholders opened investigations to figure out the problem.
Currently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has received approximately 4,000 complaints from people across 43 states. Many members of this Committee are painfully familiar with this problem and have heard from constituents who are suffering. Florida has received 56% of the cases, Louisiana 18%, and Virginia 5%. A large number of homes with the problem drywall were built in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes. Sadly, many of the homeowners in Florida and Louisiana who received the tainted drywall were already victims of the hurricanes. In Virginia, many of these victims are military families or retired servicemen and women living in the military-heavy Hampton Roads region.
Homeowners have learned that contaminated drywall emits sulfur gases that can affect the performance of home safety systems such as smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and electrical components. Similarly, the number of health complaints has reached into the thousands, and the health effects have been found to be—at the very least—a serious irritant that spurs many different reactions, making the homes in question uninhabitable.
In nearly every state in the country, tainted drywall is having a profound effect. People have been forced to abandon what they thought was their dream home and find new places to live. And, yet, their financial commitments to these unlivable homes remain. This has created an unbearable financial situation for many families and underscores the need for relief that they deserve.
Given the magnitude of this problem, I expect the government agencies here today to work as aggressively and expeditiously as possible to resolve any outstanding regulatory and enforcement issues. If there are unresolved jurisdictional limitations to pursuing Chinese companies, this issue needs be elevated through our government’s diplomatic efforts and fixed permanently.
For homeowners who have discovered tainted drywall surrounds them every day, their dreams have become a nightmare. The companies at the heart of this disaster should not be able to continue doing business with impunity. While there is no simple solution, I look forward to hearing from the witnesses on what else can be done to help these struggling families in need.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Neal S. CohenSmall Business OmbudsmanU.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Dr. Christopher PortierDirector, National Center for Environmental HealthCenters for Disease Control and Prevention
Mr. Bill SheltonDirectorVirginia Department of Housing and Community Development
Ms. Brenda Brinckuof Alva, Florida