- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

CHALMETTE, La. | Thomas Stone and his wife rebuilt after their home was flooded by six feet of water during Hurricane Katrina, never dreaming they would face the agony of tearing it apart all over again.

The couple tapped into Lauren Stone's 401(k) retirement savings and saved $1,000 by installing Chinese-made drywall throughout their two-story home. Now the Stones are among hundreds of Katrina victims facing another disaster.

Sulfur-emitting wallboard from China is wreaking havoc in homes, charring electrical wires, eating away at jewelry, silverware and other valuables, and possibly even sickening families.

“The bathroom upstairs has a corroded showerhead; the door hinges are rusting out,” said Mr. Stone, 50, the longtime fire chief of St. Bernard Parish outside New Orleans. And then there's the stench, like rotten eggs, that seems to get worse with the heat and humidity.

“It makes me wish there would be another flood to wash it out,” said Mrs. Stone, 49.

Chinese manufacturers flooded the U.S. market with more than 500 million pounds of drywall around the same time Katrina was flooding New Orleans, an Associated Press review of shipping records has found.

The boom in imported Chinese-made building materials peaked in 2006, driven by domestic shortages created by the nationwide construction boom as well as a series of Gulf Coast hurricanes.

That year, enough wallboard was imported from China to build about 34,000 homes of roughly 2,000 square feet each, according to the AP's analysis and estimates supplied by nationwide drywall supplier United States Gypsum. But experts and advocates say many homes may have been built with a mixture of Chinese and domestic drywall, which by some estimates could push the number of affected homes to 100,000 or more.

The drywall apparently causes a chemical reaction that gives off the rotten-egg stench and corrodes metal. Researchers do not know what causes it, 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.

The Chinese ministries of commerce, construction and industry and the Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the AP, although Chinese media have reported that AQSIQ, which enforces product quality standards, was investigating the matter.

The U.S. Product Consumer Safety Commission and a number of states are investigating the extent of the problem, what's causing it, and whether it poses serious health risks. But it could be years before the full extent of the problem is known.

At least 350 people in Louisiana have complained to the state health department.

Governors in Louisiana and Florida are asking for federal assistance, and members of Congress are calling for a recall and a ban on future imports.

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