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No end to Chinese drywall woes

Property owners have no choice but wait until lawsuits wend their way through court system

Photo: SOURCE: Florida Department of Health, License: N/A

SOURCE: Florida Department of Health

The Chinese drywall problem

Florida has had the largest number of reports of defective Chinese drywall in the United States. The map shows the number of complaints received by the Florida Department of Health from each county, through Jan. 18. A recent investigation by ProPublica indicates that the number of complaints to various agencies may seriously underrepresent the scope of the problem.

Photo: , License: N/A

On a quiet corner in northeast Winter Park, near the corner of Goldenrod Road and N. Pine Avenue, Pinya's Philippine Cuisine sits empty. The restaurant, a family-owned affair housed in a tidy green-roofed building, closed in 2005. A couple of years ago, the owners planned to re-open it, but as they were working inside the building, they realized that something wasn't right.

There was a smell in the restaurant - "like rotten eggs," says Tim Henry, an electrical contractor whose father, Clifford Henry, is one of the restaurant's owners - and two of the building's three air-conditioning units weren't working properly. Henry called an air-conditioning specialist to take a look at the units.

"The contractor said it was probably because this was a restaurant - it was because of all the smoke and grease," Henry says. It was going to cost about $2,400 per unit to fix the air-conditioning system, but fortunately, before the family spent the money, Clifford Henry saw something on TV that made him think something else could be at the root of their problem.

"He saw something on TV about Chinese drywall and how it turns copper black," Tim Henry says. "The next day, I went back over there and pulled the covers off [the air-conditioning units] and sure enough, there it was."

All of the coils and wires inside the air conditioners were corroded and black; defective Chinese drywall, which was sold and installed in thousands of buildings across the nation, emits a sulfuric gas that can corrode metals and ruin electronics.

Henry says he'd never heard about this before, and he called the contractor who came to look at his air conditioners; the contractor had never heard of it either.

"So I was wondering what it did to the wires inside the wall," Tim Henry says, so he went back to the restaurant and found that behind the walls, the building's wires were also black and corroded. "It's even eaten the chrome of the lavatory faucets inside the restaurant and all. It's like a disease. Like a cancer. I've never seen anything like it before."

The news coverage of defective Chinese drywall has mostly focused on reports from Florida's coasts. Although it was installed in thousands of homes around the country, some areas of Florida were particularly hard hit - South Florida, for instance, and the Tampa Bay area (Lee County, in particular) - but despite a building boom in the middle of the last decade, when most of the defective Chinese drywall seems to have been in use, far fewer reports of drywall problems have come from Central Florida.

"It's probably that a lot of this has been due to hurricane rebuilding," says Marina Campbell, owner of Chinese Drywall Recovery USA, a small company in Louisiana trying to negotiate restructured mortgages ?for affected homeowners. "I don't think Central Florida has been affected by hurricanes as much as the coastal areas have been. So you might see less [Chinese drywall] there because of that."

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