Drywall Blamed For Homeowners' Nightmare

Rotting, damaged drywall. George and Brenda Brincku and their family had to abandon their dream house because of noxious fumes and health concerns tied to contaminated drywall. Chinese manufacturers are blamed for the product, but the Brinckus were told their drywall was 100 percent American. CBS

George and Brenda Brincku spent their life savings to building their dream home in 2004.

"When we put the roof on, my son - I'll never forget - he said, 'Mom, it's a castle. You've built a castle'," Brenda Brincku said.

But before long their castle was crumbling, reports CBS Evening News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian.

Anything copper corroded. Electrical wires were eaten away. Appliances broke down. And a noxious smell permeated nearly every room, forcing the family to leave.

"We were like, 'This is a brand new home. This should never be happening,'" Brenda said. "It's very difficult."

Now a growing number of Americans are suffering the same fate - wondering why their new homes, built within the last five years, are rotting from the inside out.

The problem: defective wallboard, commonly known as drywall. An estimated 60,000 homes nationwide - primarily in southern states and California - could be affected.

"We're taking this very seriously and our mission is to identify what are the facts and what are the risks," said Joe Martyak of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

As early as 2004 a housing boom led to a dramatic shortage of U.S. manufactured drywall. To keep up with demand, builders turned to manufacturers in China.

A document obtained by CBS News shows that by 2006, 228 million kilograms - about 500 million pounds - was imported into the U.S. from 20 companies in China.

Normally drywall is made purely from the stone-like mineral gypsum, and emits no gas or odor. But health officials now suspect at least some of the Chinese product was contaminated with dangerous chemicals, chemicals that have not only damaged homes also but raise unknown health risks.

"We're really concerned about it," George Brincku said.

Robert Gary is one of several lawyers who have filed class-actions lawsuits against Chinese drywall manufacturers. He called the failure of U.S. product safety regulators "a national disgrace."

"How did 500 million pounds of contaminated and toxic drywall make its way into the United States without anyone checking it?" Gary asked.

The fact is there are no federal standards for the inspection, production, or importation of drywall. Up until now blame for problems like the Brinckus' has rested squarely on the Chinese manufacturers.

But the Brinckus say they ordered 100 percent American drywall - and have the contractor receipts to prove it.

Is that what they got?

They believe either Chinese drywall is being passed off as American or contaminated drywall is being produced in America.

"The proof is in the pudding. And the proof is in the drywall," said Ervin Gonzalez, an attorney representing the Brincku family.

One major American company whose found product was found in the home, National Gypsum, says it has never received any other complaints.

CBS News wanted to speak with the CEO of National Gypsum, but we were told he was unavailable for an interview. Instead the company issued a statement saying it has never imported, re-branded, or distributed wallboard produced in China.

To add to the confusion, the Brinckus had a product they believed was produced by National Gypsum tested and found it to be contaminated. National Gypsum says it tested the same drywall and found it was not their product.

As for the Chinese company that finds itself at the center of the controversy, a spokesman argues it's unfair to point fingers in one direction.

"Any one home could have a lot of mixtures of boards in it, or have a board that is someone else's board," said Ken Haldin, of Knauf Plasterboard Tian Jin Co. Ltd.

That's exactly the kind of uncertainty that has left families like the Brinckus afraid for their health and facing an option they never dreamed of: tearing down their dream home and starting again.
  • Armen Keteyian

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