I apparently missed this story when it hit the news in January, but - from an last week on CNN - I picked it up the second time around. The big story? Chinese drywall.
As if things weren't bad enough real estate-wise in Florida already, many homeowners are now being plagued of smelly, corrosive-gas emitting, nausea inducing drywall problems.
Nothing seems to have been proven quite yet, but the fingers that aren't holding noses are pointing to drywall imported from China.
Unlike pristine, fresh, clean smelling American-made drywall, which uses virgin gypsum in its manufacture, some Chinese drywall may include power plant by-product in the mix. Given that so many Chinese power plants are fueled by sulfury coal, many surmise that this is the source of the rotten egg smell emitted from so many Florida walls, especially on humid days. Good thing there aren't that many humid days in Florida, isn't it? Oh, wait a minute; we're talking Florida-Florida here, not Florida, Massachusetts.
Bad enough your house stinks, and that you've got watery eyes, a bloody nose, and a wheezing cough, the Chinese drywalls are also said to be corroding wiring and destroying appliances like air conditioners. Good thing you don't need AC in Florida all that often, isn't it? Oh, wait a minute, we're talking about Florida-Florida here, not Florida, Massachusetts.
The drywall problem is not isolated to Florida - cases have cropped up in Alabama and Louisiana - but, given its late lamented housing boom, tens of thousands of Florida homes may have used the tainted drywall, imported because American supply was outstripped by American boom-town demand.
Since this is America, land of the free and the outraged, and we're living in the zero-barrier to entry age of the Internet, it's not surprising that a cottage industry has grown up around the issue of Chinese drywall. ChineseDrywall.com is an informational site set up by a Florida engineer who does consulting on the issue.
And when you google the term chinese drywall, lawyers with a new-found specialty in Chinese drywall settlements crop up in the AdWord ads to the right. (The Internet means never having to chase an ambulance.)
Investigations, health reviews, lawsuits are flying every which-way on this. Developers, importers, manufacturers are all being called out, which is no surprise. If you had to gut your newly built dream-house; replace all the wiring; re-wallboard, skimcoat, and paint everything; and buy all your appliances, you'd be looking for someone to pay up, too.
Several of the producers being sued are Chinese affiliates of Knauf, a multi-national Drywall 'R Us firm headquartered in Germany. Knauf-Germany is pretty much dk-ing the Chinese Knauf concerns, at least one of which lacks insurance. This will, of course, drag on for years as plaintiffs try to sort through not just culpability, but figure out who's got deep pockets and whose pockets are empty.
I always like to look at the company-in-question's web site. Since I couldn't get to the Chinese Knauf sites, I had to settle for the generic, English-language über-site at www.knauf.com.
The company was founded in 1932 - okay, I was going to say "ominously", but I restrained myself - and there's little about its history, other than that they started to grow after WWII.
Well, bad enough being a German company founded on the eve of destruction, and one that's somehow involved - at however a long arm's length - with a product that emits what may be a poisonous gas,. There's also an eerie web site section that talks about gypsum-based wall surfaces that "work in a very similar way to the human skin." Knauf products, we learn, are "skin for the wall", promising "lifelong cosiness."
How positively gemütlichkeit!
Still, if I were a German marketer, I don't think I'd be using product analogies to human skin. (Just saying.)
Meanwhile, a whole pile of Floridians are living in houses that are likely under-water in terms of mortgages, and are smelly to boot. Nothing much to say, other than that the whole thing stinks.