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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

In mid 2010, former Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill that would temporarily devalue homes confirmed to have toxic drywall so owners wouldn't have to pay the property taxes on affected properties. According to ProPublica's examination of property tax estimates, at least $650 million worth of homes and condos "can now be valued at nearly zero under the state's tax-relief program for drywall victims."


Two companies tested the drywall in the Henrys' restaurant; the first test was not positive for the compounds found in toxic Chinese drywall; the second test showed some of the sulfuric compounds but not in high concentrations. Tim Henry thinks that's because the brand of drywall installed in the restaurant was "remanufactured" - that is, it's a composite made of old drywall that's ground up and recycled, then turned into sheets of new drywall.

"So if you went into a building and had the Knauf [Chinese-manufactured] drywall in it, and you ground that up and recycled it and remanufactured it, then you have it in it, no matter what the label says," according to Henry. "So when it came back, it said there was a percentage of sulfur in the drywall. Sure, it's not going to be 100 percent, because it's mixed in with other particles. But ?it's in there."

So now the Henrys have put the reopening of their restaurant on hold indefinitely, and they're paying taxes on a vacant building. And it will have to remain vacant, Henry says, because the only way to remediate the problem properly would be to gut the building down to its concrete-block walls then rebuild - a project he thinks could easily cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars. He says he'd be wary of trying to do a quick-fix remediation in case it didn't completely eliminate the issue.

"When we found out, I said my god, there's no way we can open now," Henry says. "What if somebody gets sick? Then they find out we got Chinese drywall problems, and here comes a lawsuit."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that short-term exposure to fumes released from defective Chinese drywall could result in a series of minor symptoms, such as eye irritation, coughing, nausea, headaches, shortness of breath and/or chest pain; long-term exposure, it says, could result in fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, memory loss, insomnia and dizziness. But last week the agency announced that it would not conduct a long-term study of how exposure to Chinese drywall could impact human health because so far the levels of sulfur gases found in environmental samples have been low. The announcement infuriated homeowners who are concerned that no one really even knows the scope or extent of the problem. It also concerns consumer advocates who worry that people and banks and property flippers are passing on Chinese-drywall tainted homes to others because they don't consider it a serious enough problem.

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