Although extreme, and not quite the norm, some individuals are experiencing that Chinese drywall, sometimes referred to as "contaminated drywall" or "tainted drywall," has negative impacts on health and on metal products in a home. This issue is being studied by a few organizations including the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This column is provided to give you some insight to an issue that can negatively impact the health of those living in the home as well as impacting metal items in the home.
Photo 1. Chinese drywall is prevalent in the states highlighted in red.
In a press statement, these organizations noted that they are working together to determine if homeowners with Chinese drywall in their homes face potential health or safety risks. As of January 25, 2010, the CPSC had received 2833 incident reports related to drywall from 37 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. More than 90% of reports are from Florida (59%), Louisiana (21%), Mississippi (6%) Alabama (5%) and Virginia (4%). In addition, the CPSC has worked hard in an outreach program to identify as many instances of homes that have registered complaints about their drywall and to date the total combined estimate of number of homes impacted is upwards of 5000 homes.
The first incident report was received by the CPSC in December of 2008. Homeowners have reported that the drywall in their homes has caused bad odors, corrosion, and sickness. In some cases the problems have driven the occupants from their homes. The complaints include:
- Itchy eyes
- Scratchy, burning throats
- Nose bleeds
- Sinus infections
- Breathing problems
- Skin irritations
In addition to these issues, there are also reports of corrosion of metals, including wiring, due to the toxins from the drywall. If your gut reaction is to presume that only those products touching the drywall have a potential to be impacted and to exhibit corrosion, you are most certainly incorrect. Any product in the home, touching the drywall or not, can exhibit corrosion problems simply due to the toxins in the air. Complaints of corrosion have been received by the CPSC for the following:
- Air conditioning evaporator coils. In this case, corrosion leads to pitting of the tube and leaking of Freon. Your Green radar/alarm should have just alarmed.
- Smoke alarms sounding in the middle of the night without any apparent cause.
- New appliances including televisions, microwave ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers and computers suddenly stop working for no apparent reason.
The CPSC has completed various reports that contain information on the impact to electrical components. They are finding that the harvested components from affected homes are exhibiting significant corrosion of copper wiring and a lesser degree of corrosion to other parts of the electrical equipment such as the screws and metal and conductors contained within. No indications of significant overheating of conductors or other conductive parts have been recorded. No fires have been attributed to this problem as well. This report and more can be found at the CPSC web site (http://www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall ).
What Can You Do?
Finding out that your home has this issue is not an easy pill to swallow. If you are the inspector who has to tell the homeowner there is an issue, it's not an easy message to deliver. First, let's consider what you, the homeowner, can do.
1. Consider the age of the home or work completed in the home. Was the home constructed or was drywall added since 2001?
2. Look for corrosion of metal components in the home. Look for black corrosion on any copper tubing, including that which you find on the conditioner coils in refrigerators. Look at air conditioning units as well. If the air conditioner cannot cool the home, this may be an indicator that a leak may have occurred and the refrigerant is escaping into the atmosphere. Coil failures with this problem typically occur every 6-14 months
3. Look for more metal corrosion. Any blackening of copper wires, ground wires, uncoated copper pipes and fittings, chrome-plated bathroom fixtures, silver or copper jewelry and even the back of the mirrors which have a foil. (Caution should be used when looking at electrical wires. Educate homeowners not to touch any copper wires or try to remove any receptacle plates or loadcenter covers. Safety first.)
You can go a little further to help identify a problem by looking for markings on the back of the drywall. Find locations where the back is exposed and look for the word "China" in big letters somewhere, indicating that its origin is China. Other than doing this, you are into testing the air or the gypsum for certain chemical components. There is handheld equipment on the market that can detect Strontium levels. If these levels exceed 2,000 mg/kg (ppm), the gypsum used in the drywall may have been mined in China.
If you suspect your home has a problem with its drywall, a report can be filed with the CPSC through their web site: http://www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall. Use this link as well to learn more about the issue as further studies are conducted and alerts arise.
For More Information
Remember, this problem is still unfolding and more reports and study results will be available. The CPSC has spent more than $3.5 million on this investigation constituting more than 3.5% of their annual budget. The CPSC has established a web site specifically focusing on this issue and can be found at the following URL: www.cpsc.gov/info/drywall. Also, the CDC has established a site and can be found at the following URL: www.cdc.gov/nceh/drywall . Arm yourself with as much knowledge on the topic as possible.
Article Copyright © 2010 IAEI Magazine Online.
We've all heard about the health dangers of mold in residential and commercial buildings. Having measures in place to prevent or control the growth of mold is of course prudent, and mold remediation is a necessary and often difficult task. For mold testing, control, and remediation, it is best to rely upon an expert in the field.
Preventing & Controlling the Growth of Mold
Mold prevention is necessary because mold has the potential to cause a number of health problems, including allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and lung inflammation. Mold growth occurs when there is a buildup of water or excessive moisture in an area within a structure. This can often be prevented by making sure that plumbing does not leak, and that the humidity inside a building is kept at a level between 30-50%.
Humidity and moisture buildup can be prevented by ensuring that the ventilation system is sufficient and working properly, and that air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and exhaust fans are used in areas prone to high humidity, such as the bathroom, or in the kitchen when cooking or cleaning. Insulation will also help to control the buildup of moisture. If there is water damage within a home or building, water damaged materials need to be discarded and replaced, and dehumidifiers need to be used to dry the area quickly.
Why Mold Remediation Experts Are Necessary
Walls or ceilings that show a discoloration, and the presence of a musty smell are signs that there may be water damage. Buildings are especially susceptible after heavy storms, or if there is a plumbing leak. A mold remediation expert should be called if there is suspected water damage or mold contamination. The expert can identify and assess the water damage and the potential for mold, and determine what needs to be done, as well as recommend improvements for the future prevention of mold.
Only a mold remediation expert will possess the skills, experience, and the specialized equipment necessary to thoroughly check a structure for mold, such as a moisture meter, which can detect moisture in building materials. Mold remediation experts also possess the proper disinfectants needed to fight and destroy mold spores, as well as the recommended respirators, goggles, and other protective clothing. Mold remediation should never be attempted by anyone who is not an expert and does not possess the proper equipment, or you are exposing yourself to significant health risks.
The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has begun mailing its Annual Water Quality Report to every household in its service area. The report is required by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and updates consumers on last year's water quality test results.
In the latest round of testing, the MWRA system was again below the Lead Action Level with the lowest levels ever. And tests have also shown that there are no traces of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplied by MWRA.
MWRA distributes the report to over 800,000 homes in 41 cities and towns. Community-specific inserts also provide information about municipal water systems. The reports are being mailed between now and the end of June. Look for it in your mailbox.
The report is available on-line at http://www.mwra.com/water/html/awqr.htm.
The new Massachusetts Oil Tank Law goes into effect on Jul. 1st! If you currently have an oil tank on your property or are listing/selling a property with an oil tank, you may be affected.
This law has two major provisions that require:
- the installation of either an oil safety valve or an oil supply line with protective sleeve on systems that do not currently have these devices; and
- insurance companies that write homeowner policies to offer coverage for leaks from heating systems that use oil.
Most homeowner policies do not currently include such coverage, leaving many to pay for costly cleanups out of their own pocket. Although it is mandatory that insurance companies offer this coverage, the insurance is an optional purchase for homeowners. The effective date for both provisions is July 1, 2010.
Who must take action?
Owners of 1- to 4-unit residences that are heated with oil must already have or install an oil safety valve or an oil supply line with a protective sleeve, as shown in this diagram. Installation of these devices must be performed by a licensed oil burner technician. Technicians are employed by companies that deliver home heating oil or are self-employed. It is important to note that heating oil systems installed on or after January 1, 1990 most likely are already in compliance because state fire codes implemented these requirements on new installations at that time.
What will an upgrade cost?
The typical cost of installing either an oil safety valve or oil supply line with a protective sleeve ranges from $150 - $350 (including labor, parts, and local permit fees).
For those households that meet certain income criteria, financial assistance of up to $300 is available through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). For more information on financial assistance, see the Department of Housing and Community Development Web site at http://mass.gov/dhcd or call them at 1-800-632-8175.
Download a printable summary of this law here.
For more information about oil tank testing, please check out my Oil Tank Testing page.