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No drywall, health link, officials say

Dec. 6, 2011
Brenda Brincku of Fort Myers testifies Tuesday before a Senate panel looking into the effects of contaminated drywall.
Brenda Brincku of Fort Myers testifies Tuesday before a Senate panel looking into the effects of contaminated drywall. / Ledge King/ Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON - There’s not enough evidence to prove defective drywall is a significant health hazard, federal officials said Tuesday.

Thousands of homeowners in Florida and across the country have complained over the past decade the drywall is responsible for ailments and corroded metal inside homes.

But health and safety officials told members of a Senate panel a methodical analysis shows the levels of toxic chemicals emitted by the drywall aren't high enough to show a link.

“Unfortunately, the results of our studies have not permitted us to make health or safety findings that would enable us to compel the manufacturer to recall this product,” Neal Cohen, an ombudsman with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, told members of a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee. “We’re not suggesting that (those effects) don't exist. We’re suggesting that we have not been able to explain them with the low level of emissions we were able to (detect) in the home.”

It's a frustrating finding for the approximately 4,000 families — 56 percent are from Florida — who have complained formally to the Consumer Product Safety Commission about drywall they say has caused nosebleeds, respiratory problems and pet deaths. Thousands more have sued manufacturers.

Most attention has focused on homes built after the 2005 hurricanes using drywall made in China, but some homeowners say U.S. manufacturers have produced the toxic building material as well.

Brenda Brincku moved into her dream home in 2004 in Alva, with her husband and three children.

She said a sulfur-like smell inside the home became worse, her children started getting sick and the coils in air conditioning units began corroding. After 4½ years, they moved to Fort Myers and sued the drywall maker, North Carolina-based National Gypsum.

Brincku told lawmakers the experience destroyed her family's credit rating because the damage wasn't covered by insurance and the uninhabitable house is worth next to nothing. She said the news from the experts was disappointing.

“Federal regulators have dropped the ball, and we hope this committee can help turn that around and send federal assistance to devastated American families,” said Brincku, who was invited to testify by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando.

Brincku's home in Alva is believed to be one of at least 1,500 in Lee County affected by defective drywall.

Senators did not offer much beyond sympathy, although Sen. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, suggested there should be legislation to protect the credit ratings of those whose drywall-contaminated homes have lost significant value.

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