As courts and state legislatures grapple with the issue of tainted Chinese drywall, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers is turning to the nation's top fire official for help in protecting homeowners. Congressman Charlie Melancon and U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter have sent a letter to U.S. Fire Administrator Kelvin Cochran, a Shreveport native, noting that corrosion of electrical wiring caused by toxic Chinese drywall could pose a serious fire hazard for homeowners.
The Louisiana lawmakers contend that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has established a "strong association" between chemicals emitted by toxic drywall and corrosion of copper wiring in homes. "In addition to the fire hazards associated with damaged electrical wiring, corrosion can also lead to the deterioration of smoke alarm systems and fire sprinklers," wrote Melancon, D-Napoleonville, who represents portions of Acadiana, "compounding the risk of damage and injury from fire." It's a challenge recognized all over south Louisiana, as evidenced by the lawmakers who co-signed Melancon's letter: Congressmen Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-New Orleans; and Steve Scalise, R-Metairie.
Since 2006, more than 550 million pounds of drywall have come to the United States from China, according to a letter from Vitter and Landrieu. Countless homeowners across the country have reported serious metal corrosion, noxious fumes and health concerns, they added. Five other senators co-signed the Vitter-Landrieu letter. "As senators representing states whose homeowners have been impacted by the contaminated drywall issue, we are writing to you to ask for your assistance with not only investigating, but also making the public aware of the potential fire hazards associated with affected drywall," the letter reads. "We believe that the U.S. Fire Administration has an important role to play in making homeowners aware of the fire risk in their homes."
Landrieu says there are two actions that the USFA can take immediately. The first involves public information, possibly even a public announcement similar to a national recall and product safety bulletin, she says. The other involves scientific analysis. Landrieu and others want the USFA to coordinate with other federal agencies to review the health risks and identify the fire hazards posed by Chinese drywall. "Homeowners in our states are already struggling to deal with the health and property issues related to the defective drywall," the senators wrote in their letter. "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." — Jeremy Alford