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American drywall is faulty, too

Lee families join class-action lawsuit

Sep. 28, 2010
Employees with the Consumer Product Safety Commission test Brenda and George Brincku's home in Alva.
Employees with the Consumer Product Safety Commission test Brenda and George Brincku's home in Alva. / Cristela Guerra/


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Thousands of people who bought houses with Chinese drywall have filed hundreds of lawsuits against builders, suppliers and manufacturers.

Now those same problems may be affecting homes constructed with domestic drywall.

Families in Lee County are taking part in a class-action lawsuit against National Gypsum, one company they allege produced contaminated American drywall.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has opened a new investigation into problematic drywall, testing about a dozen homes, according to Alex Filip, spokesman for the government agency.

He said testing done in previous studies did not identify the cause of the problems in these homes as easily.

"So we're taking a sampling to see if there's mixed drywall as well," Filip said. "We're trying to figure out what contributed to these problems."

Though there are different identifiers, complaints about it remain the same.

Homeowners say the off-gassing from the wallboard corrodes everything from air conditioning coils to fragrance containers, door handles to jewelry - and given them headaches, itchy eyes and respiratory problems.

Spokesmen for National Gypsum have denied claims that their wallboard is tainted.

"These incidents are somewhat easier to litigate since they involve American companies," said Sarasota-based attorney Bob Gary, who's involved in the litigation.

"The case is fairly new," Gary said. "At this point, we're trying to proceed very cautiously. We're investigating claims against other companies and would expect to file other claims at some point."

There are 100 to 140 homes involved that have issues involving American drywall, he said.

Experts have entered those homes to do testing and have found much of the same results as in homes with contaminated Chinese drywall.

"Wires behind the fridge were black," Gary said. "Upstairs some pennies look rusted until you flipped it over and on the other side it looked like a shiny brand new penny."

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Brenda and George Brincku of Alva are now living in Fort Myers as a result of issues with American drywall.

The couple is at the forefront of this battle, allowing the safety commission to come in and use their home as an experimental site.

Their 3,150-square-foot home in Alva was meant to be the home they would live in for the rest of their lives.

It now resembles Swiss cheese as a result of all the holes and pieces of wallboard pulled out of the structure.

In March of 2009, after four years in the home, the family moved out. In that time, they went through seven copper cooling coils in their two air conditioning units.

Brenda Brincku said she knows of homeowners in Lehigh Acres, Fort Myers, and Cape Coral locally, and Orlando, Gainesville, California, Virginia, South Dakota and Canada who have problems with domestic drywall brands that include Georgia Pacific, National Gypsum and USG.

One theory is that scrap from homes made with Chinese drywall got into the production mainstream and were recycled as part of the domestic drywall production process.

"There's no regulation - we don't know the composition," Brincku said of drywall production. "And all these questions remain unanswered. I have no recourse but to take them to court."

The couple's house was tested on Sept. 22. It's expected to take a couple of months before the safety commission releases its findings.

They have a forbearance agreement with their lender. That gives them three months at a time to postpone foreclosure.

"We were told it's like acid rain in our house. Our wiring looks like it's 40 years old," Brincku said. "There's no help, there's nothing. People are beside themselves of what to do. Many are just walking away."

Sam Schiffman, chief legal counsel for National Gypsum, on March 4 told The News-Press that he had heard speculation that some U.S. drywall manufacturers may have imported the Chinese drywall and then relabeled it as their own for distribution.

National Gypsum has never done that, Schiffman said. The North Carolina-based company tested the Brincku home earlier this year.

Company officials said in an April 20 statement that the results of an investigation by an independent testing company showed that none of the drywall in the Brincku home has the problem characteristics of the defective drywall.

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