CPSC Promises Quick Investigation

Under fire for the pace of her agency’s investigation, the nation’s top consumer safety official is promising to move swiftly to probe a flood of complaints about suspect drywall imported from China.

Homeowners, mostly in the Southeast, say the drywall is making them sick and corroding wiring throughout their homes. Lawmakers from Florida, Louisiana and elsewhere have pressed Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum for answers about the safety of the drywall.

Tenenbaum, who took over the agency in June, told lawmakers the investigation is “extremely complex and that there probably will not be a quick fix,” but she pledged to get to the bottom of the matter.

The release of results from CPSC testing of homes in southern states has been delayed several times and is still weeks away.

Homeowners blame the drywall for a “rotten egg” smell in their homes, health woes such as itchy eyes and skin, difficulty breathing, persistent coughing and bloody noses as well as corrosion of electrical wiring and home appliances.

Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., one of a handful of lawmakers who met with Tenenbaum on Wednesday, said he was satisfied that the CPSC chief understands the issue’s importance to affected residents.

“If we get these results and they’re valid, and they are then part of a long-term action plan to bring relief to homeowners, then I believe we will have accomplished something very important,” Wexler said in an interview.

This summer, CPSC promised to release in September the initial results from indoor air testing of 50 homes, but that deadline was then pushed to October. This week, the agency further delayed the release to early November.

In a terse letter to Tenenbaum on Tuesday, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., complained that the agency is moving too slowly.

“This is not acceptable,” Warner wrote. “My constituents have had their lives turned upside down by Chinese drywall: Most have moved out of their homes and several are facing the prospect of having to foreclose on their homes.”

Since late last year, the agency has received more than 1,300 complaints from residents in 26 states and the District of Columbia, with the majority from Florida and Louisiana. The drywall was imported primarily between 2004 and 2008 when home construction was booming and supplies tight. The plasterboard from China was also used in homes rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.

The Environmental Protection Agency has conducted tests on a tiny sampling of Chinese-made drywall. It found sulfur and two organic compounds associated with acrylic paint — which were not found in the U.S.-manufactured samples that were tested.

The report did not draw any conclusions about health risks or whether the drywall could be damaging wiring in homes.

The EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with CPSC, which is leading the investigation.

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