According to an article published on ProPublica entitled “China Plays Tug-of-War with U.S. Inspectors over Drywall,” the United States’ investigation of defective Chinese drywall has been an everlasting “tug-of-war” battle between US investigators and the Chinese manufacturers and their government. It has even gone as far as a Chinese official attempting to force a piece of the drywall from an American inspector’s grasp.
The investigation into contaminated Chinese-made drywall is the largest product investigation the Consumer Safety Product Commission (CPSC) has ever conducted. Although it has been almost 2 years since this all began, the CPSC still does not know what causes the sulfur gases to be released.
A CPSC team traveled to China last year to investigate the manufacturing plants and gypsum mines. According to the Herald-Tribune, Chinese officials drastically interfered with the investigation. Chinese officials would rush the American investigators through sites, avoided questions, and even tried to stop attempts to take samples. They even went as far as ordering employees at a Chinese mine to encircle the Americans to block the entrance as an intimidation tactic.
The ProPublica article also stated that the team of investigators was denied even the most basic information about the chemicals and processes being used to manufacture the drywall. At one point, some of the team members went to vendors to purchase the drywall directly, and were told that a certain brand of drywall smelled so bad contractors refused to buy it.
Manufacturing Plant #1 – The team first stopped in a city located within the Shandong province where Taishan Gypsum Co. and Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin received some of their materials. This was also where Tiashan’s manufacturing plant is located.
During their visit, many of the team’s questions were avoided. The team also made a few disturbing observations. The plant was very dirty, equipment was not labeled, and it was very unclear as to how the quality of the material was being monitored.
Gypsum Mine #1 – Resistance to cooperate intensified during the second stop at a gypsum mine. When the American team of 5 stepped off of the bus they were encircled by at least 50 plant employees who proceeded to block the entrance and take pictures of the team. The team planned to be at this location for several hours, but was rushed through the site. They were only there for about 30 minutes.
Gypsum Mine #2 – The second gypsum mine they visited in Shandong province was overwhelmed by the smell of sulfur, as well as the smell of live-stock. The team asked where the live-stock smell came from and were told that there was a farm nearby however, there was no farm in sight.
The team was very displeased with the processes being used to separate the materials in the mine. The materials were being separated by hand which meant that the gypsum was not being properly tested to see if it was pure enough to be used to produce drywall. When the team of investigators asked for a sample, they were handed a piece of gypsum that looked nothing like the piles being sorted.
Manufacturing Plant #2 – This second manufacturing plant used a type of gypsum called flue gas desulfurization or FGD gypsum. This gypsum is produced from coal ash. This method is very popular in China and the United States because it is abundant and cheap.
The team wanted to know how the plant kept track of where the coal ash came from. In the US, deliveries come with certificates that specify the composition of the gypsum. What they were told was startling. They were told that the gypsum came from five different power plants and was dumped into one big pile and that there was no documentation on the materials.
Last Manufacturing Plant – The last manufacturing plant they visited was located in the city of Tianjin of Beijing. This is where Chinese subsidiary Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, of the German based company was located.
This facility provided the team with a full list of chemicals used in their product, and this plant was significantly more modernized than the previous plants visited. However, despite these optimistic factors, this plant was also piling their materials together which did not allow them to keep track of its origin.
The End of the Investigation- During the last few nights of their stay, some of the investigators slipped into town to try and get more information. They went to vendors to purchase sheets of drywall to sample. The investigators also gathered valuable information from these vendors who did not know why they were being questioned by the Americans.
The CPSC has not received any additional information from the Chinese government since the trip 14 months ago.
On a more positive note, the Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin “pilot program” settlement to repair 300 homes in several different states is set to begin early next year.