WASHINGTON — The federal government is recommending that homeowners with corroded Chinese drywall remove all the material from their homes, along with electrical components, sprinklers and gas lines, to eliminate potential health and safety problems, which could cost $100,000 or more.
Guidelines that the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued Friday recommend that consumers replace "all possible problem drywall"; all electrical components and wiring, including outlets, switches and circuit breakers; all gas service piping; fire suppression sprinkler systems; and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
"Based on the scientific work to date, removing the problem drywall is the best solution currently available to homeowners," said Inez Tenenbaum, the chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. She added that the interim recommendations are being released before scientific studies on problem drywall are completed "so that homeowners can begin remediating their homes."
Tenenbaum said the agency had found that certain Chinese drywall had hydrogen sulfide emission rates that were 100 times greater than non-Chinese drywall. Homeowners with the suspect material have complained of breathing problems, headaches and corroded wiring and air-conditioning units.
However, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who first called for an investigation into the cases of toxic drywall and traveled to China to press its government to help American consumers, said he was troubled that there was little help for homeowners who might have to shoulder the cost of removing the drywall. The cost of removing and replacing just the drywall for a 2,000-square-foot home is estimated at about $100,000.
"The studies find that the drywall is bad enough to require the stuff to be removed from houses," Nelson said. "Now the question is: Who pays for it? The way I see it, homeowners didn't cause this. The manufacturers in China did. That's why we've got to go after the Chinese government now."
Nelson's office said there were more than 3,000 reported cases of toxic drywall in the U.S., nearly 1,800 of them in Florida. Many homeowners in Florida who've sought help from their insurance companies to deal with the damage say the companies not only deny their claims but also drop their policies.
A Louisiana judge ruled in March that the policy exclusions that property-insurance companies are using to deny claims don't apply, but the insurance company that's involved in the suit has said it plans to appeal the ruling.
Still, Darren Inverso, an attorney for former Bradenton, Fla., resident Kristin Culliton, one of the first Floridians to come forward with a complaint about tainted Chinese drywall, said he agreed with the federal recommendations.
"I haven't read anything to convince me that drywall can be treated or not need to come out of the house," he said. "From the perspective of the person living in the house, you need to side with caution."
Culliton has since settled her lawsuit and moved out of the area.
The recommendations issued Friday largely reflect guidelines that the National Association of Home Builders issued last month.
HUD has told cities, counties and states that receive money from its Community Development Block Grant program that the money can be used to help affected homeowners. HUD said Friday that homeowners should contact local governments about aid. HUD also has asked its FHA mortgage lenders to extend temporary relief to drywall-affected homeowners.
The report from the Federal Interagency Task Force on Problem Drywall, which developed the recommendations, did say that "other remediation approaches could ultimately prove more cost-effective and/or less invasive, such as the preservation of insulated wiring," but added that more study is needed.
Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the consumer protection agency, said Friday that it had been in contact with its Chinese counterpart and that the American agency wanted "Chinese companies to do the right thing for American consumers."
Nelson has pressed the White House to make the problem drywall a priority in talks with the Chinese government.
It was unclear Friday whether the subject will come up when Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Washington later this month to attend a nuclear security summit.
Tenenbaum said the agency's scientific investigation "provides a strong foundation for Congress as they consider their policy options and explore relief for affected homeowners."
She said the agency was continuing to look at the long-term health and safety implications of the drywall. Preliminary data from a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which measured chemical emissions from samples of drywall, found that the top 10 sulfur-emitting drywall samples were all produced in China.
The task force that developed the recommendations called them a "sufficiently stringent approach," noting that initial studies have found a "strong association between the presence of problem drywall and corrosion of metal in homes."
Based on those findings, the task force said it focused on replacing the drywall and building components for which "drywall-induced corrosion might cause a safety problem."
The task force didn't recommend replacing copper plumbing or heating, ventilation and air-conditioning evaporator coils — as some remediation efforts have suggested — because of "the absence of a direct connection to safety."
It also said it didn't think that homeowners were required to replace non-problem drywall, wood studs, flooring, cabinetry or other household components and fixtures that might have been exposed to the drywall emissions.
(James A. Jones Jr. of The Bradenton (Fla.) Herald contributed to this article from Florida.)
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