Radioactive Chinese Drywall Is Stinking Up U.S. Homes

The government thinks radioactive industrial waste from China is responsible for a recent sulfur stench that has plagued hundreds of Florida homes. Demand for Chinese drywall spiked during the housing boom, but federal regulators believe the drywall contained phosphogypsum, a banned waste byproduct that features prominently in Chinese construction. When used in drywall, the probable carcinogen can corrode “air conditioners, mirrors, electrical outlets and even jewelry.”

The health risk of phosphogypsum is uncertain, but industry specialists say they are troubled by its widespread use and the possibility it was exported, especially in light of recent incidents in which other Chinese imports such as pet food, toys and candy were found to be contaminated with toxic or unsafe substances.

“Considering the fact that phosphogypsum can cause corrosion, something should be done,” said Ding Dawu, a geoscientist and an authority on gypsum processing in China. “Right now,” he added, “there are no complaints [in China] because most people don’t know much about gypsum board and there are no standards against it.”

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Huge phosphogypsum dump sites can be seen in all corners of China. Near the banks of the Yangtze River in central China’s Wuhan area, raw phosphogypsum is spread over 20 acres and packed 65 feet deep into the ground. The smell of sulfur permeates the air. Workers at the site said the material was given away to anyone willing to pay the transportation costs, a mere $1.75 per ton.

No one knows how much phosphogypsum board from China was shipped abroad. But in 2006, Chinese exports of drywall to the U.S. totaled a record 503 million pounds valued at more than $25 million, according to Chinese customs’ statistics. That’s enough for 32,000 homes.

The EPA, Customs, and the Department Commerce all say they aren’t required to test drywall, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission says they only ask Customs to inspect items for which there are mandatory testing requirements. So, as usual, it’s up to the Chinese quality protection agency to keep us safe.

Chinese drywall blamed for odors and corrosion in U.S. homes [The Los Angeles Times]
(Photo: The County Clerk)