PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) - At the height of the U.S. housing boom, when building materials were in short supply, American construction companies used millions of pounds of Chinese-made drywall because it was abundant and cheap.
Now that decision is haunting hundreds of homeowners and apartment dwellers who are concerned that the wallboard gives off fumes that can corrode copper pipes, blacken jewelry and silverware, and possibly sicken people.
Shipping records reviewed by The Associated Press indicate that imports of potentially tainted Chinese building materials exceeded 500 million pounds during a four-year period of soaring home prices. The drywall may have been used in more than 100,000 homes, according to some estimates, including houses rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.
"This is a traumatic problem of extraordinary proportions," said U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat who introduced a bill in the House calling for a temporary ban on the Chinese-made imports until more is known about their chemical makeup. Similar legislation has been proposed in the Senate.
The drywall apparently causes a chemical reaction that gives off a rotten-egg stench, which grows worse with heat and humidity.
Researchers do not know yet what causes the reaction, but possible culprits include fumigants sprayed on the drywall and material inside it. The Chinese drywall is also made with a coal byproduct called fly ash that is less refined than the form used by U.S. drywall makers.
Dozens of homeowners in the Southeast have sued builders, suppliers and manufacturers, claiming the very walls around them are emitting smelly sulfur compounds that are poisoning their families and rendering their homes uninhabitable.
"It's like your hopes and dreams are just gone," said Mary Ann Schultheis, who has suffered burning eyes, sinus headaches, and a general heaviness in her chest since moving into her brand-new, 4,000-square foot house in this tidy South Florida suburb a few years ago.
How do the Chinese train their population to have no regard for producing products that poison those who buy them? Could the thoroughness of the corruption start with the cutthroat culture of schooling based on test cheating? From the Guardian:
Eight parents and teachers have been jailed on state secret charges after using hi-tech communication devices to help pupils cheat in college entrance exams, Chinese media reported today.
The conspirators used scanners and wireless earpieces to transmit exam answers, indicating the lengths to which people go to ensure success in the make-or-break "gaokao", which determines the future of 10 million 18-year-olds each year.
Concern about cheating is such that papers are kept under armed guard, and last year their classification was upgraded from "secret" to "top secret".
But three separate scams operated in a single school in Zhejiang province. Those involved were sentenced to between six months and three years for illegally obtaining state secrets. It is not known whether any children were punished.
The Legal Daily newspaper said the parents began plotting in 2007 because their children's achievements were "not ideal". One group bribed a teacher to fax them the test paper and paid university students to provide answers, which were transmitted to the children through earpieces. The ruse was discovered when police detected "abnormal radio signals" near the school.
Another man had created an even more elaborate ‑ and expensive ‑ system. He bribed a student to send him the questions using a miniature scanner and hired nine teachers to answer them. He then sent their work back to his son and the other boy.
A teacher was also jailed for charging parents to deliver answers to students. The equipment he used failed on the day. . . .