U.S. Says Chinese Officials Helping with Probe of Tainted Drywall

China is helping American officials investigate reports of contaminated Chinese drywall after thousands of American homeowners complained the building material made them sick or damaged their houses, a top U.S. safety official said. Consumer Products Safety Commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said her Chinese counterparts have provided technical help and are working with the U.S. to determine the cause of the problem.

Tenenbaum called on Chinese drywall companies “to examine carefully their responsibilities to U.S. consumers who are suffering from problems in their homes and to do what is fair and just in each case if their products are involved.”

The costs to homeowners could be in the billions of dollars, according to some estimates, and homeowners have struggled to get help from insurers or relief from mortgage payments on homes that are in some cases uninhabitable.

American construction companies imported the drywall, also known as wallboard or gypsum board, at the height of the housing boom, when building materials were in short supply. The drywall apparently causes a chemical reaction that releases fumes that reek like rotten eggs and grow worse with heat and humidity.

Tests of Chinese drywall by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have found sulfur and two organic compounds associated with acrylic paint. The compounds are not found in samples of American-made drywall.

Since late last year, the agency has received more than 1,300 complaints, with the majority from Florida and Louisiana. The drywall was imported primarily between 2004 and 2008.