Chinese drywall sparks thousands of health and damage complaints

Chinese drywall has been used in some Massachusetts homes and can cause adverse health reactions and property damage.

There is almost no better feeling for a new homeowner than finalizing the deal and settling into a dream home. It can be heartbreaking, as well as financially devastating, if a pre-existing problem presents itself after the house officially changes owners. In some cases, the former homeowner knew about the issue but hoped to sell the house without the inspector or new homeowners discovering the problem until later. In many other instances, the previous homeowners had no idea there was a problem with their beautiful Massachusetts home.

This is especially true with issues that have vague signs and are difficult to detect, such as when substandard building materials are used during a home's construction or renovation. Over the past few years, thousands of homeowners in numerous states, the District of Columbia and American territories have complained of property damage and adverse health effects due to the prevalence of substandard drywall imported from China.

Why was Chinese drywall being used instead of domestic materials?

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 led to a massive shortage of domestic drywall, forcing contractors to source cheap drywall from out of the country, particularly China. The CPSC has received more than 4,000 complaints to date, mostly from homes that were renovated between 2001 and 2009. While the majority of claims originated in Florida and other southern states that were impacted by the hurricanes, some homes in Massachusetts were affected by Chinese drywall as well.

What problems can Chinese drywall cause?

Hydrogen sulfide, which is present in substandard imported drywall, is known to leach into the surrounding air over time, gradually creating problems that can lower home values and result in costly repairs and drywall replacement. Homeowners with Chinese drywall reportedly experience a persistent rotten egg smell and the repeated malfunctioning of major appliances, such as air conditioner units and refrigerators. This is due to the airborne chemicals corroding pipes and electrical wiring.

Health problems are also tied to the presence of Chinese drywall, reports Boston Children's Hospital. The symptoms, including eye irritation, difficulty breathing, nosebleeds, coughing, sore throats and asthma flare-ups, are known to lessen when away from the house but increase upon returning home.

Not surprisingly, the effects of Chinese drywall can be difficult to pinpoint. A homeowner may not have known substandard materials were used during renovations, thereby leading to an omission of known defects in the home disclosure statement. An experienced real estate attorney may be able to assist homeowners navigate the difficult process of reporting and addressing defects that show up after a sale.