Just imagine, that you have purchased a brand new apartment or a house with a big loan from a bank. You have thrown a grand house warming party, where you invited all your friends and well-wishers. You move into the house after that, hoping to have a wonderful time in the house with your family. After few days, you are horrified to find that the house smells of rotten eggs all the time. Presuming that the smell must be coming from the fresh coat of paint, you use fresheners, deodorants and essence sticks. But to no avail, the smell refuses to go. After few more days, you notice that all your family members are having some or other problem with breathing. Some have body rash. Then you suddenly find out that the new aircon you have installed, has already started rusting.
What would you do? You would feel aggravated, get frustrated, and blame your misfortune. Finally, you would decide to sell off the house with extreme reluctance. Then you find out that all the new houses built recently, have the same problems and no one really wants to buy them.
This is not an imaginary scenario. In U.S.A., houses recently built in as many as 23 states, are facing this problem. The problem has become so serious now that U.S.Congress has appointed a 14-member committee, to look into the grievances of the house owners. A member of this committee has found out that the dwellers in these houses are not only suffering from diseases like Bronchitis and Pneumonia but also the pregnant mothers from such houses, are being advised by Doctors to move out. This committee has already received grievances from as many as 820 house owners. About 2000 legal suites against builders and suppliers, are pending in various courts in U.S. Just in the state of Florida, there are at least 400 such houses and it is estimated that the repairs may cost around US$ 40 million.
What exactly is the root of the problem? Houses in US and Europe are not constructed the way we do it in India. The construction usually starts with foundation ditches. Large wooden columns are erected in these ditches along with concrete. A wooden structure is built around these foundation columns. To construct the walls, ply board sheets are nailed from outside first. Next to these, Gypsum drywalls or sheets made from compressing the mineral Gypsum, are fixed. After completion of plumbing and wiring, ply board sheets are again nailed from inside to complete the walls. The Gypsum drywalls, fixed between the wooden boards, inside the walls, appear to be the real cause of the problem.
Until four or five years ago, these Gypsum sheets used to be made in the USA. To reduce costs, builders started importing such sheets from China. It is observed that these china made Gypsum drywalls, slowly release sulphur dioxide gas, in the house. This gas smells like rotten eggs, and is extremely corrosive. This is creating problems for plumbing and wiring as well, which are laid next to these sheets.
It is not that major problems have been observed for the first time with a Chinese product. Serious problems were detected earlier with Infant formula, toothpastes and pet foods. These problems were solved by taking the products off the stores shelves. However, 6.2 million Gypsum sheets have been imported in the US from China and these have been fixed inside the house walls. Corrective action in this case therefore, is not very simple.
It is estimated, that at least 20 Gypsum drywall manufacturers in China, may be making these smelly Gypsum drywalls. Mineral Gypsum for these manufacturers, comes from Luneng mine in Shandong province of China. This mineral Gypsum, has a high percentage of sulphur in it. Lack of any quality controls means, that there is no way by which, the importers can ensure, that the manufacturers are removing the sulphur traces, from the mineral before use.
Congressional committee, Chinese manufacturers, Government of China is now discussing to find out who is to blame. Who shall pay compensation? It is hoped that some way may be found out in near future.
However, for those thousands of house owners and their family members, who, instead of enjoying their new house, have been subjected to physical hardships, medical hazards and mental torture and agony, who would compensate them?
21 August 2009