Two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, Thomas Stone, 50, was relieved to move his family from a trailer into a rebuilt home in Chalmette, La., in April 2008.
But five months later, Stone’s dream turned into a new nightmare. Hinges started rusting, clocks and scales stopped working, and Stone’s young daughter began getting nosebleeds.
Soon enough Stone thought he knew why: His home is filled with drywall imported from China that is suspected of causing metal to corrode and health problems. About 60,000 to 100,000 U.S. houses are affected.
Stone has lost two air-conditioning units and one flat-screen television. Other homeowners say their kitchen appliances and plumbing failed, and many have moved.
“Right now we’re just waiting for the next thing to break,” says Stone, who is the fire chief for his parish. “It’s like living in a disaster zone.”
While no link has been established between the drywall and homeowners’ experiences, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency are now investigating, and thousands of homeowners have filed lawsuits. The first case is to be heard in federal court in January.
In the meantime, homeowners are stuck. Insurers are largely turning their backs while homeowners must continue to pay mortgages on unlivable homes.
So far the problem is primarily affecting Florida, Virginia and Louisiana, where a housing boom earlier this decade led to shortages of domestic drywall. But Arnold Levin, a Philadelphia attorney representing homeowners, says he expects to see cases involving Chinese drywall crop up in other parts of the country, too.