The Consumer Product Safety Commission electrical and fire safety investigation on defective drywall
Consumers have reported blackened and corroded metal in their homes. Particularly, consumers have reported failures of certain components such as: (1) premature failures of central air conditioning evaporator coils located indoors as part of the central air conditioning unit air handler; and (2) intermittent operation or failure of appliances, such as refrigerators and dishwashers, and electronic devices such as televisions and video game systems.
To date, CPSC has not received any reports of fire, electric shock or fire pre-cursor incidents (such as discolored, overheated/burned out, or smoking components) related to problem drywall.
Visual examination of electrical wiring within affected homes by CPSC staff showed varying levels of corrosion on the exposed portions of copper wires, in particular ground wires, since they are not insulated. The presence and extent of corrosion within a house, or even within a room, however, appeared inconsistent.
We are investigating the electrical and fire safety issues in the home, including the corrosion of components such as fuel gas piping and fire safety devices, and any immediate or long-term fire and safety concerns. Particular areas of focus for this investigation include:
Electrical components including residential wiring, receptacles, switches, circuit breakers, panel boards, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs).
Possible concerns with electrical components include:
Deterioration of connections such as where a wire is connected to a receptacle or where a circuit breaker is installed in a panel board. A degraded connection could develop hot spots resulting in overheating and possibly fire.
Erosion of copper conductors over time, reducing conductor crosssectional area and compromising its physical integrity. If the corrosion is progressively eating away at a wire, the wire would eventually lose its capacity to carry current and start to overheat or become physically weak and break.
Damage to circuit traces or electronic components on printed circuit boards causing failure of protective devices like GFCIs, arc-fault circuit interrupters, and smoke alarms, which can present shock and fire hazards from the loss of protection provided by these devices.
Gas service components including flexible connectors and copper piping. The concern is that potential gas leakage due to corrosive pitting of piping could present a fire or explosion hazard.
Fire safety components including smoke alarms and fire sprinklers. For smoke alarms, potential concerns include damage to electronic circuitry and degradation of the sensor. Either condition could result in an inoperable smoke alarm. For fire sprinklers that use metallic fusible elements, potential concerns are that corrosion may adversely affect activation temperatures. Failures of these devices can put consumers at risk.
The investigation into electrical and fire safety issues is a two-part engineering component test program: (1) metallurgical analysis of various components collected from affected residences to characterize the type and extent of any damage; and (2) exposure of new components to elevated levels of gases, identified in the drywall chamber studies, as part of an accelerated corrosion test program to determine long-term exposure safety implications. A metallurgical analysis of the accelerated corrosion will enable comparison with the actual collected samples from homes.
(This document was prepared by CPSC staff, has not been reviewed or approved by, and may not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission.)
A report on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website expresses concerns that corrosion caused by Chinese drywall is a fire and safety risk.
Scott Wolfson, commission spokesman, said the report does not draw conclusions.
But Richard Kampf of Cape Coral, who heads a grass-roots group of about 350 drywall homeowners and tracks every bit of information he can on the subject, said the document makes the link between corrosion and risk.
“Since Day 1 that’s been an issue for me,” said Kampf, who has written letters to everyone from safety commission chairman Inez Tenebaum to President Obama about the risk of fire because of the drywall.
“I was extremely surprised to see that they finally drew the connection that we have all been waiting for,” Kampf said. “I am extremely disappointed that they would come out and say all of a sudden, that’s not what they meant.”
The defective drywall was imported mainly between 2004 and ’07. The product has a foul smell and emits sulfur compounds that corrode air conditioning coils, electrical wiring and components, appliances, jewelry and other metal items in the home. Many who live with the drywall complain of health problems from nosebleeds to respiratory problems. The drywall has been found in thousands of homes in 37 states and Puerto Rico. In Lee County, at least 1,500 homes are affected.
Kampf first saw the report Friday and said the information is new. Wolfson said the report has been on the website for “many months.”
The report states several possible corrosion concerns, including:
• Deterioration of electrical connections could develop “hot spots resulting in overheating and possibly fire.”
• “Damage to circuit tracers or electronic components on printed circuit boards, causing failure of protective devices like ground fault circuit interrupters, arc fault circuit interrupters, and smoke alarms, could present shock and fire hazards.”
• Potential gas leakage caused by corrosive pitting of piping “could present a fire or explosion hazard.”
This sentence was in small print at the end: “(This document was prepared by CPSC staff, has not been reviewed or approved by, and may not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission.)”
Wolfson said the commission has not drawn definite parallels between drywall and fire risk.
“We’re working to see how strong those parallels are,” he said. But he apologized the report did not leave more ambiguity in the statements.
The report also says there have been no reports of fire, electric shock, or discolored, overheated/burned out, or smoking components related to the drywall.
Wolfson said the commission is continuing testing to see if long-term exposure to the drywall can create any of those situations.
Kampf said his wife, Patti, was using a blow dryer last year when it started on fire. “It literally blew up in her hand and blew flames out,” Kampf said. “The CPSC confiscated it and we have not heard anything since.”
Joyce and Richard DeFrancesco Sr., of Cape Coral, had their oven blow out in December 2006. “I definitely am frightened by the electrical,” she said. “I do believe it plays a big part.”
Wolfson said those incidents were investigated with help of fire marshals and neither was related to the drywall.
But the potential exists, he said. If the drywall is proven to be a fire hazard, the agency can take regulatory action, Wolfson said. He declined to say what that action would be.