Ask NCHH About Chinese Drywall
What’s the problem with Chinese drywall?
Consumers from more than 10 states and the District of Columbia have reported concerns related to drywall imported from China that is in their houses. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC-ATSDR), in coordination with state and local authorities, to investigate this matter. To gather more information about Chinese drywall, CDC-ATSDR requested that EPA conduct an elemental analysis of Chinese drywall and compare it with drywall manufactured in the United States.
With CDC-ATSDR’s concurrence, two wallboard samples known to have been manufactured in China were selected for analysis. Additionally, four samples of U.S.-manufactured drywall were purchased by EPA from local stores in Edison, New Jersey and included in the analysis. Prior to analysis, the thin layer of paint was scraped off of the two Chinese drywall samples for metals analysis. The paper was then separated from the solid (gypsum) material of all six drywall samples and placed into separate glass jars. The paper portions of the samples were analyzed for metals, semi volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and formaldehyde. The gypsum samples were analyzed for metals, SVOCs, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, sulfide, water soluble chlorides, total organic carbon (TOC), pH, and loss on ignition (LOI).
The analysis was conducted to identify the elemental material contained in the drywall samples and is not itself intended to establish a definitive link between the drywall and the conditions being observed in houses.
- Sulfur was detected at 83 parts per million (ppm) and 119 ppm in the Chinese drywall samples. Sulfur was not detected in the four U.S.-manufactured drywall samples.
- Strontium was detected at 2,570 ppm and 2,670 ppm in the Chinese drywall samples. Strontium was detected in the U.S.-manufactured drywall at 244 ppm to 1,130 ppm. Total acid soluble sulfides were not detected in any samples.
- Iron concentrations of 1,390 ppm and 1,630 ppm were detected in the Chinese drywall samples and in the range of 841 ppm to 3,210 ppm for the U.S.-manufactured drywall samples. Additional drywall samples will be tested to determine whether the iron is present as oxide, sulfide, or sulfate.
EPA’s analysis showed the presence of two organic compounds in the Chinese drywall that are associated with acrylic paints: propanoic acid, 2-methyl-, 2, 2-dimethyl-1-(2-hydroxy-1-methylethyl) propyl ester at estimated concentrations of 58 ppm and 92 ppm, and propanoic acid, 2-methyl-, 3-hydroxy-2,4,4-trimethylpentyl ester at estimated concentrations of 50 ppm and 84 ppm. These compounds were not detected in the U.S.-manufactured drywall.
EPA will continue to work with its federal and state partners to respond to this issue. EPA also is working with a multiagency and state technical group to develop an indoor sampling protocol for use by CPSC and states to conduct indoor air testing in houses suspected of containing Chinese drywall. The group’s goal is to complete the protocol by June 30, 2009. EPA expects that results from the indoor sampling will be evaluated by CDC-ATSDR for possible health implications.
What should I do if I think my house has Chinese drywall?
Answer: We recommend five steps:
- The most important issue is your health and safety. If you are suffering from the health symptoms described as common to the reports of exposure to problem drywall (irritated and itchy eyes and skin, difficulty in breathing, persistent cough, bloody or runny nose, recurrent headaches, sinus infection, and asthma attacks), consult your physician as soon as possible. If you experience any of the electrical or fire safety concerns described as common to the reports of exposure to problem drywall, consult your local gas or electric supplier and a licensed electrician or building inspector as soon as possible.
- You should contact your state and local authorities to report your concerns and get direction on any help or resources in your area.
- You should also report your concerns to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) using their incident form.
- You should also consider contacting your insurance company and homebuilder to report your concerns.
- Contact a licensed home inspector.
What are the health symptoms and risks of Chinese drywall?
The most frequently reported symptoms are irritated and itchy eyes and skin, difficulty in breathing, persistent cough, bloody noses, runny noses, recurrent headaches, sinus infection, and asthma attacks. Since many consumers report that their symptoms lessen or cease when they’re away from their home but return upon re-entry, it appears that these symptoms are short-term and related to something within the home.
We are aggressively investigating if scientific evidence exists linking chemical emissions from the drywall to the reported health complaints. At this time, however, any such relationship or long-term health effects are unknown.
What are the electrical or fire safety concerns associated with Chinese drywall, and what I should I watch for in my house?
Consumers have reported blackened and corroded metal in their homes. Particularly, consumers have reported failures of certain components such as (1) premature failures of central air conditioning evaporator coils located indoors as part of the central air conditioning unit air handler; and (2) intermittent operation or failure of appliances, such as refrigerators and dishwashers, and electronic devices such as televisions and video game systems.
You should generally watch for the following potential electrical hazards in your home:
- Power outages—a circuit breaker which needs resetting frequently without any apparent cause; especially if a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) or arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) trips frequently. Arc-fault circuit interrupters are a special kind of circuit breaker designed to detect arcing conditions in the electrical wiring.
- Dim/flickering lights—lights dim often without any specific cause, such as the air conditioner or the refrigerator turning on.
- Arcs/sparks—bright flashes or showers of sparks anywhere in your electrical system.
- Sizzles/buzzes—unusual sounds from electrical system devices.
- Overheating—parts of your electrical system, such as switch plates, dimmer switches, receptacle outlet covers, cords, and plugs may be warm as a normal consequence of their operation but should not be discolored from heat or painful to touch.
- Odors—pungent smells, such as strong fumes from overheating plastic or electrical insulation materials.
- Electrical shocks—any shock, even a mild tingle.
What should I do if I suspect the corrosion has affected my gas service?
If you suspect corrosion has affected your gas service, please consult your gas supplier immediately. However, if you suspect a gas leak in or outside your home:
- LEAVE the area IMMEDIATELY and tell others to leave too.
- DO NOT turn any lights on or off, smoke, or operate any vehicle or equipment that could cause sparks.
- DO NOT attempt to turn gas valves on or off.
- Immediately call your gas supplier from a neighbor’s phone. Follow the gas supplier’s instructions.
- If you cannot reach your gas supplier, call the fire department.
- Installation and service must be performed by a qualified installer, service agency, or the gas supplier.
Why is Chinese drywall suddenly a problem now?
Consumers largely report that their homes were built in 2006 to 2007, when an unprecedented increase in new construction occurred in part due to the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005.
What causes the corrosion and fire and safety hazards?
The answer to this is not yet known, but the EPA is testing to determine the causes of corrosion and health hazards. The fire hazards are a result of corrosion to electrical systems within the home.
Does this problem only affect newly constructed homes/renovated homes?
Yes. It appears to only affect homes built in 2006 or later.
To fix the problem, does all the drywall need to be removed? Can any person do that?
As of now, that seems to be the only option. Beyond that, the various components that have been corroded will also need to be replaced.
How do I know if I have Chinese drywall?
There is no easy way to tell if your home was built with Chinese drywall. Your best option is to contact your nearest EPA representative if you suspect that your home or the building you live in has the fes2 or Chinese drywall installed in it by the drywall contractor. They will have a list of the sites that have been suspected of or have been confirmed to have the Chinese drywall installed.
When will we know the results of the investigation?
Although the participating agencies have committed significant resources to this problem, gathering evidence and conducting the necessary tests will take time. It could be months before we can confidently address the scientific relationships between the problem drywall and the health and safety concerns raised by consumers.