Senators’ concerns over imported drywall rise

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) are pressing the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) to establish a public information campaign to alert homeowners to the potential fire hazards posed by corrosive drywall imported from China.

Cochran and Wicker are among six Senators who today asked the USFA, an agency within the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to assist with investigating and raising awareness of potential fire hazards posed by contaminated drywall corroding copper wiring.

As of Feb. 17, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) had received almost 3,000 incident reports related to Chinese drywall, including metal corrosion, noxious fumes and health concerns. With 37 states weighing in, most reports involve homeowners in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Virginia.

“Concerns raised around the country have already prompted the federal government to alert fire safety officials about this potential threat. I believe the public should also be included in these warnings as federal and state agencies try to address the full extent of the problems caused by substandard imported drywall,” Cochran said.

“Consumer education is our best tool in protecting the public from the negative effects of corrosive drywall.  Involving the Fire Administration in this important effort would help provide consumers across the country with the best information about potential fire hazards in order to prevent future tragedies,” Wicker said.

The senators suggested that the USFA post public announcements similar to CPSC announcements, listing safety and fire prevention measures that can be taken by affected homeowners.

“CPSC and the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued Interim Guidance on the identification of homes with corrosion and problem drywall on Jan. 28, 2010, and we believe that guidance from the USFA on potential fire hazards is one of the next important steps needed to protect affected homeowners,” said the letter from the senators to USFA administrator Kelvin Cochran.

The letter also requested that the USFA assist ongoing investigations into health and safety issues associated with the more than 550 million pounds of drywall imported from China since 2006. Ongoing investigations are led by the CPSC and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Homeowners in our states are already struggling to deal with the health and property issues related to the defective drywall. We believe that these impacted homeowners should not be subjected to further dangers of fire due to defective drywall. As other states and localities begin investigating similar concerns, we believe that your agency can play a critical role in the ongoing federal investigation of Chinese drywall,” the letter said.

The correspondence, authored by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), was also signed by senators David Vitter (R-La.), George LeMieux (R-Fla.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

In November, Cochran and Wicker asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate companies and individuals offering drywall solutions, even as federal agencies continue to study the causes of the tainted drywall problem and recommend testing and remediation protocols.

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