Environmental Protection

M.D. Calls for National Evaluation of Chinese Gypsum Wallboard


You can expect to read and see more about noxious odors and copper-corrosion from sulfurous off-gassing Chinese gypsum wallboard as temperatures and humidity rise this summer, indoor environmental and air quality expert Barbara Manis, M.D., said in an April 14 press release.

But while irritative, rotten-egg-like odors have caused residents in at least five states to flee their homes, any actual health dangers to humans have yet to be detected, according to Dr. Manis, chief medical officer for Building Health Sciences, Inc. (BHS).

Gases from Chinese drywall are corroding copper-containing electronic equipment, wires, pipes, and air conditioning systems in residences constructed with Chinese gypsum imported during the 2004 - 2007 housing boom. While some may be more sensitive than others to sulfur-based odor from the walls, to date no tested levels of sulfur-containing gases have been measured at or above health-based regulatory standards, Dr. Manis said, in calling for a national scientific approach to the growing problem.

"Let's get ahead of this problem scientifically, now," Manis said, noting that federal and state class action and individual lawsuits have been filed against gypsum manufacturers and suppliers, builders, and others. "We've seen how emotional and unscientific claims distorted the indoor mold problem into a far more serious situation than it was. Let's not replay this with Chinese gypsum. But, by the same token, if dangers to humans are discovered, we need to work together solve them."

Summer's hotter more humid weather in southeastern states like Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas will keep Chinese gypsum in the headlines. One news report indicates that enough suspect drywall entered the United States to build 60,000 homes. Toxicologists and industrial hygienists have identified four sulfur compound emissions in testing Chinese gypsum: carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide, hydrogen sulfide, and strontium sulfate (trace levels), at varying exposure levels, according to Manis. "Each of these, in conditions of high humidity and heat, could trigger odors and irritative symptoms in certain individuals," she explained.

None of the four sulfur compound emissions exceeded any established regulatory health guidelines, including the Minimal Risk Level (MRL), as determined by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An MRL as "an estimate of the daily human exposure to a hazardous substance that is likely to be without appreciable risk of adverse noncancer health effects over a specified duration of exposure. These substance specific estimates, which are intended to serve as screening levels, are used by ATSDR health assessors and other responders to identify contaminants and potential health effects that may be of concern." It is important to remember that exposure to a level above the MRL does not mean that adverse health effects will occur, Dr. Manis explained.

BHS provides comprehensive, medically-focused, single source solutions to Indoor Environmental and Air Quality issues that adversely affect building occupants as a result of building or material failures. Their medically-engineered solutions form the basis of a managed response to critical environmental incidents, including mold problems. Their most recent high-profile project involved a two year, Congressionally-mandated epidemiological study and health hazard evaluation regarding claims of work-related illness at Fort Meade, Maryland, National Security Agency buildings.

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