At the height of the U.S. housing boom, when building materials were in short supply, American construction companies used millions of pounds of Chinese-made drywall because it was abundant and cheap.How do we tell our largest creditor that they must have standards without them calling in our debt? How many more examples of dangerous products from China do we need before we say enough is enough?
Now that decision is haunting hundreds of homeowners and apartment dwellers who are concerned that the wallboard gives off fumes that can corrode copper pipes, blacken jewelry and silverware, and possibly sicken people.
Shipping records reviewed by The Associated Press indicate that imports of potentially tainted Chinese building materials exceeded 500 million pounds during a four-year period of soaring home prices. The drywall may have been used in more than 100,000 homes, according to some estimates, including houses rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.
"This is a traumatic problem of extraordinary proportions," said U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat who introduced a bill in the House calling for a temporary ban on the Chinese-made imports until more is known about their chemical makeup. Similar legislation has been proposed in the Senate.
The drywall apparently causes a chemical reaction that gives off a rotten-egg stench, which grows worse with heat and humidity.
Researchers do not know yet what causes the reaction, but possible culprits include fumigants sprayed on the drywall and material inside it. The Chinese drywall is also made with a coal byproduct called fly ash that is less refined than the form used by U.S. drywall makers.
Dozens of homeowners in the Southeast have sued builders, suppliers and manufacturers, claiming the very walls around them are emitting smelly sulfur compounds that are poisoning their families and rendering their homes uninhabitable.
"It's like your hopes and dreams are just gone," said Mary Ann Schultheis, who has suffered burning eyes, sinus headaches, and a general heaviness in her chest since moving into her brand-new, 4,000-square foot house in this tidy South Florida suburb a few years ago.
She has few options. Her builder is in bankruptcy, the government is not helping and her lender will not give her a break.
"I'm just going to cry," she said. "We don't know what we're going to do."
Our dependence on China is destroying us in many ways. When will it end?