Some question scale of Chinese drywall problem

MANATEE — As the Chinese drywall saga unfolded during the past year, one figure has been widely and often repeated: 100,000.

That is how many U.S. homes potentially could contain the allegedly defective building product, some have estimated. Multiple media outlets covering the drywall story — including the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and the Bradenton Herald — have quoted the estimate, as have various federal and state elected officials

Now some are questioning if that figure — and the scope of the drywall problem itself — is exaggerated.

A spokesman for the lead federal agency investigating the drywall issue recently cautioned reporters about using the figure, saying it has not been substantiated.

"The best information we have to date is that, that number is overstated," said Scott Wolfson, of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, citing a relatively low number of drywall complaints lodged with the agency.

But others contend the estimate is valid, perhaps even low, and that the number of complaints reflects only a fraction of the issue’s true scope.

"There's a lot of people still in denial or unaware of this stuff," said Thomas Martin, president of Americas Watchdog, a consumer-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

The 100,000 figure's origins are murky.

The earliest reference to it in a news story, according to a Google News search, is a Feb. 15 article in the Bradenton Herald. That story attributed the figure to Martin.

In a recent interview, Martin said his group based the 100,000-home estimate on site visits it made to homes with Chinese drywall as well as the number of calls it has received from homeowners.

If the group confirmed Chinese drywall in a random sampling of homes in a single subdivision, then it assumed all other homes built during the same phase of construction also had it, he said. Based on that, the group believes there are 16,000 affected homes just in the Fort Myers area, he said.

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