Chinese Drywall -- Environmental Forensic Opportunities
Environmental Forensics, 11:6-16, 2010
Posted: 29 May 2015
Date Written: March 2010
Forensic science will face one of its greatest challenges in dealing with the host of issues created by allegedly defective, Chinese drywall (“CDW”) in legislative, regulatory, and judicial forums. Many have already likened the impending controversies to the monumental asbestos crisis and related proceedings.
Chinese drywalls are building materials (gypsum) imported in the U.S. from China in large amounts in the 2000s, especially during the “house boom” period between 2004 and 2007. Some of CDW were reported to be defective as they appear to release into the indoor air a mixture of sulfur gases (including hydrogen sulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and carbon disulfide) which have a persistent rotten-egg smell and seem to corrode copper wires, affecting electrical and plumbing components within the affected home. While Florida, followed by Louisiana, have the highest use and reported defective CDWs, cases of defective CDWs were signaled in many other States. Essentially, millions of pounds of defective drywalls were used throughout the United States in hundreds of thousands of recently built or renovated homes. Many facts complicate the investigation of CDW issues. For example, not all CDWs may be defective, not all CDWs are properly labelled to identify the manufacturer or even if they were imported from China or not. Additionally, identifying sulphur gases emitted by defective CDW is problematic due to equipment limitations and transient nature of the formed gases, especially hydrogen sulphide. In this context, forensic fingerprinting methods are needed in order to reliably identify defective CDW and exposure pathways, establish causality for reported effects, allocate between potentially multiple sources of sulphur gases, and obtain convincing evidence for litigation-related matters. This article provides both scientific and legal insights into CDW issues, suggesting appropriate forensic approaches and legal opportunities for cost recovery and mitigation of defective CDW effects.
Keywords: Chinese drywall, defective drywall, forensic testing, off-gassing, indoor air, corrosion
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