Chaired By: Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Witnesses Panel I: Mary L. Landrieu, U.S. Senator, Louisiana; Panel II: Lori Saltzman, Division Director, Office of Health Sciences, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission; Michael McGeehin, Division Director, National Center for Environmental Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Elizabeth Southerland, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; David Krause, State Toxicologist, Florida Department of Health; Richard J. Kampf, Florida Homeowner; Randy Noel, President, Reve, Incorporated
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SEN. PRYOR: (Sounds gavel.) I'll go ahead and call the meeting to order. I want to thank all the witnesses and the spectators for being here this morning. And I want to thank my colleagues. We're going to have a few more join us. So I'm going to make a very brief opening statement. But I want to welcome everyone to the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee.
We, today, are going to be talking about a very important issue for the country, and that is Chinese drywall. This issue creates new challenges for our subcommittee, the full committee, and the federal agencies charged with protecting consumers from harmful products.
Chinese drywall was imported in large volumes during the height of the building market, and used extensively in Florida and Louisiana following the devastating hurricanes in 2005. In reviewing complaints against Chinese drywall, we are grappling with potential dangers in embedded product built into the very fiber of hundreds of family homes. Apartments, homes, and even mansions built with some Chinese drywall may be making residents sick rather than providing them a place of home sanctuary.
This crisis is a double threat to home owners as it destroys the value of a family's largest investment.
In early 2008, homeowners in Florida and Louisiana began complaining of a peculiar odor, describing it as a rotten egg smell, that was permeating their houses, and of serious metal corrosion, including air conditioning units that had turned black with corrosion within two years after new construction. Residents of these homes also reported health problems that included bloody noses, recurrent headaches, irritated eyes and skin, and asthma attacks.
As many residents reported that their symptoms abated after leaving their homes, investigators began examining products in the home as potential cause. Florida health officials and homebuilders eventually narrowed down the cause of these problems to an unlikely source, drywall imported from China used for home construction.
While there are several theories about the root of the Chinese drywall problem, we are here today to establish for the record the likely cause of this health and economic threat, as well as the scope of the Chinese drywall crisis.
More importantly, we will hear how our state and federal agencies are responding. We will work to complete a record to see if there are any steps we need to take to make sure that this situation does not happen again.
The impact on people's lives is immense, both financially and emotionally. I implore all the parties involved to always consider the well-being of innocent people who have been evicted from their uninhabitable homes.
I congratulate those homebuilders who have begun taking remedial action in the affected homes. And the courts and all the parties involved need to quickly develop a solution so that these families have a safe place that they can call home.
I want to welcome Senator Nelson -- and Senator Landrieu who will join us shortly. But before I let them give the opening statement, we'd love to hear from the ranking member, Senator Wicker.
SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): Thank you Mr. Chairman. And I appreciate the hearing.
Earlier this year we started hearing these reports of homes built during 2006-2007 in Florida plagued by strong odors and failed electronics due to metal corrosion. We also heard reports of the symptoms that Senator Pryor just described. These reports have increased in frequency, and now they are coming from other states, Mississippi, Louisiana and Virginia, for example, are investigating similar health and home related problems.
The United States has consumed an average of 31 billion square feet of drywall since the year 2000. To handle the increased demand during post-Katrina rebuilding along the Gulf Coast, as well as during the nation's housing boom, domestic producers expanded their facilities and increased capacity. Our current domestic production capacity exceeds 37 billion square feet of drywall. That's enough drywall to cover the entire state of Rhode Island.
It's also significant increase in the domestic capacity in 2000, which was only 31 billion square feet. Despite this increase in domestic production, our demand has caused us to import drywall from sources outside North America, notably China. The United States imported almost 280 million square feet of drywall in 2006, and roughly 32 million square feet in 2007.
These numbers seem high. They do represent only 0.5 percent of the amount used in the United States for the two-year period. According to the Department of Commerce, the Chinese drywall entered through ports in some 14 states, including my home state of Mississippi. No doubt, the product has been distributed to other states also.
The widespread distribution of the suspect drywall makes it very important to have the CPSC, the CDC, and the EPA testify today. I'm eager to hear their preliminary findings, Mr. Chairman, the elemental analysis of the drywall samples, and their suggestions on how best to move forward.
It's my hope that these agencies will keep us informed of progress on identifying the specific issue with the imported drywall, what was the problem, and the efforts to establish the testing methodology to test homes which might be affected.
I also appreciate the attendance today of Mr. Noel, who is speaking on behalf of National Association of Home Builders. These builders play a vital role in the issue. And I'm glad to know that he can join us today to discuss efforts the industry is taking regarding the suspect drywall.
While it is clear we are not importing Chinese drywall currently, I'm sure we will discuss how to prevent this problem from occurring again in the future. I'm hopeful we will act rationally and make decisions based on sound science.
Officials in the state of Mississippi are aware of the issue, and are currently investigating complaints that have been made to our state agencies. I will continue to monitor the matter as these investigations continue.
I look forward to working with the senator from Florida, who is taken a lead on this issue, and our other colleagues to ensure that federal -- that the federal government is providing the necessary expertise and assistance on this issue. Thank you.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you, Senator Wicker.
And now I want to introduce Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who really has taken a lead on this. He and Senator Landrieu have been working tirelessly to get this issue before the subcommittee and before the nation and try to get a resolution.
SEN. BILL NELSON (D-FL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I just wanted to show you some of the evidence of what's happening in the homes -- and I've been in several of these homes. And what you see here is coils on an air conditioner. Now, they are copper. And you can see the copper shinning through here.
When copper ages, it turns green. But look what has happened to all of these copper coils and pipes on an air conditioner. You can see the air conditioning ducts back here, so much so that I went in homes that had had to replace the coils three times on their air conditioners, because the surface not only turned black -- and I took a screwdriver and scraped it off down to the copper, but it corrodes and eats into the actual metal. Now, that's one example.
I'll give you another example. This is some kind of electrical thing that has a copper tube coming off. Again, you can see the discoloration of the copper tube. In an electrical -- and this is the electrical wire. Or look at a water heater. Look at the pipes. Now, this is a more recently installed pipe. And you can see that it still retains its copper color, but look at the tube that was there.
In one case, there was a couple that had gone -- an elderly couple that I visited in their home, and they had gone to Mexico the month before on a cruise, and the wife had bought a silver bracelet. And she showed me the silver bracelet. And it was completely corroded black. And that had only been a month.
Look at the shower head, how it's popped. I can show you pictures of mirrors, the same thing for the silver behind the glass in a mirror. And then, this is not even to speak of the questions of people's health.
Now, I guess, I'm like a canary in a coal mine, because I'm highly allergic to mould and mildew. And I can walk into a room, and within five minutes my respiratory systems starts contracting. The same phenomenon occurred to me in walking into these houses.
Others have experienced headaches, watering eyes. In my own case, it was congestion. There is the smell -- there is a sulphur smell. Some describe it as the smell of rotten eggs. And in the case of children, pediatricians have been advising the parents to take the kids out of the house.
Now, how do we know that this is Chinese drywall? Well, bring up that photograph there. Yes, please, the impact. It's interesting, in the houses that don't have a problem, there is none of this. But in the houses that do, you can see the cutout of the wallboard and you can see the writing -- this is upside down -- C-h-i-n-a, upside down. And that is a consistent phenomenon that where there are these effects, there is this drywall that is labeled having come from China.
Now, we've been all over the Consumer Products Safety Commission to get moving. They had sent a team down to Florida. They gave the samples of this to the EPA and they have just reported on their first test. And that test says that compared to American drywall, there are three different elements. There are traces of acrylic -- of elements that are in acrylic paint, there is sulphur, and there is strontium.
The next step is to have a test that is basically to put it in an environment that it finds itself, like in places like Louisiana and Florida that is hot and humid, and to see what the gases are that come off from it. And the CPSC has said, well, they don't have any money. Well, we did a reform, thanks to Senator Pryor. We did a reform of the CPSC last year and they do have money.
So today, when we pass the supplemental appropriations bill, it's going to have $2 million in there for this test for the CPSC to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and the EPA in order to do that test and other test.
And we've got to get to the bottom of this, because our people are potentially endangered. Now, the CPSC has, under legal authority that it was given in the reform, the ability to stop the importation of this drywall and to go out and basically impound it.
And the CPSC is waiting until it gets better evidence. That's why we can't sit around and wait on this anymore. So you're going to have the money after this supplemental is signed into law by the president.
I want you to show that chart right there. Now, this is just since 2006. The drywall has, that we know of, is going in all of these states. We know that most of it has come into Florida, over 3 million drywall boards. Six hundred and sixty eight thousand boards that came in through the port of New Orleans and so forth throughout these particular states.
And of course, in our state of Florida, you can see that most of the drywall has come in through the port of Miami and the port of Tampa.
The estimates may be as many as 100,000 homes nationwide that has this Chinese drywall. The estimates are that it could be anywhere from 35 to 50,000 homes, just in our state of Florida. We needed drywall in the aftermath of the 2004 hurricanes. Louisiana needed drywall in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Rita in 2005.
And you can see the enormous problems that is facing the homeowners who have a mortgage, who their pediatrician is telling them to take their child out of this home. If they are fortunate, like the single mother and her child that I've visited in Bradenton, she had her mother that they could go and live with. But she is still paying the mortgage.
But if it's like another family that I've visited with, they don't have any place to move except to pay rent and still pay their mortgage because the banks are refusing to work with them on their mortgages.
All right, look at the poor home builder. It's not like home builders aren't suffering enough with the economy as it is now. And is the homebuilder going to be responsible for this? Well, that wasn't his fault that he got a faulty product. So who is going to stand by this?
And that's why we can't wait around anymore. We've got to get to the bottom of it. And the United States government in its role as a protector of consumers has got to do its job and to do it swiftly and accurately.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you Senator Nelson.
Let me inform our panel of witnesses what is going on. We understand that we're about to have roll call vote on the floor very soon, may be as soon as 10 minutes from now. And I know that Senator Landrieu is on her way over and we may have one or two others that are on the way over.
What I would like to do is ask you all to dispense with your opening statements and just submit those for the record. I know you've prepared that testimony and we appreciate that. But in the interest of time -- and what I would like to do is dive right in on questions. And I'll go first and then Senator Nelson. And we'll do the order from there.
But let me just start with a couple of very brief questions, if I may. First for Dr. Krause. You're at the Florida Department of Health, is that right?
MR. KRAUSE: Yes, I am, Mr. Senator.
SEN. PRYOR: And how many homes, do you estimate, have this affected drywall in your state?
MR. KRAUSE: Currently, we have approximately 300 that have called the Florida Department of Health and entered one of our registries. However, there is a barrier in with the public to calling the Department of Health and letting us know. So we believe our numbers are grossly underestimating.
SEN. PRYOR: And what's the barrier?
MR. KRAUSE: One barrier I've been informed of are attorneys, that are plaintiff attorneys who are representing these folks are telling their clients not to register with the Department of Health.
SEN. PRYOR: Okay. And do you know to what extent people are staying in their homes with affected drywall? Or, you know, on the other hand, that are leaving their homes? Do you have a percentage or a feel for how many people are staying and how many people are going?
MR. KRAUSE: No. No, sir. We are including that in our questionnaire. And hope to have some information on that soon.
SEN. PRYOR: And let me ask Ms. Saltzman with the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Ms. Saltzman, do you have a sense of how widespread this problem is around the country?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes, we've heard from 320 consumers in 16 states and the District of Columbia.
SEN. PRYOR: And do you -- is it your understanding that the sale, at least temporarily, of this drywall have stopped in the U.S.?
MS. SALTZMAN: It's our understanding that it has. That there is no more that's coming in.
SEN. PRYOR: And let me ask about -- since the CPSC on something like this is a lead federal agency, can you just tell the subcommittee what the CPSC has been doing to try to determine what's going on out there?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes, of course. We've actually -- our program is based on three different tracks. We're looking at the -- trying to find the link between the Chinese drywall and the health symptoms. We're looking at trying to identify the link between the drywall and the corrosion of the metal components. And we're also tracing the origin and the distribution of the drywall.
SEN. PRYOR: Okay. And if I may, with my last question, I see Senator Landrieu coming. And I would like to expedite my questions here so that we could get to the other senators.
If I may ask Mr. Kampf, you're a homeowner in Florida, is that right?
MR. KAMPF: That's correct. Cape Coral, Florida.
SEN. PRYOR: And where do you live? And where?
MR. KAMPF: Cape Coral, Florida. It's in Lee County.
SEN. PRYOR: Okay. And you had some experience with this in your own home.
MR. KAMPF: Yeah.
SEN. PRYOR: Could you give us two, three minutes on what your experience has been, and may be the highlights of your testimony that I've asked folks just to submit for the record. But if you could give us the highlights of that I would appreciate it.
MR. KAMPF: Yes, Mr. Chairman, I would be happy to do that. My wife and I are both career -- retired career federal employees. And we had an opportunity to retire early and we wanted to settle in Florida, and decided to purchase or build a new home. And what was -- we took occupancy of that house in September 2007.
However, we didn't move in until July of 2008 because of our moving plans. Nonetheless, the day we moved in July of 2008, the air conditioner broke. And at the time we just thought it was something that happened.
Within one year, we had 15 visits from the air conditioning repair company. During that time they recharged my air conditioning unit 10 times, all of which with R-22 Freon that was in fact then dispersed back through the ductwork in my house into me, and my son, and my wife.
We had floor coils in our house replaced, the latest one was shipped to Texas by the Trane manufacturing company and had it coated. The coated coil seems to work. We have air conditioning now. But we also have another smell, adverse, a volatile organic compound that comes off with the smell of the coated coil each time the compressor comes on.
We have had a significant amount of deterioration of products in our home. Our mirrors are black, the copper piping, particularly on the water heater. I have plastic pipe in most of the house, but the copper piping in the water heater is black. All of the shut-off valves of the toilet closets normally chrome are completely black. The paint cans in my garage and things that I've bought just a month or so ago, for example, turned to a rust, complete rust.
We have had illnesses. I am sick today. Respiratory problems are prevalent. We're constantly going around the house drinking bottles of water. And my wife is complaining quite a bit about, at night, her eyes are burning. She has vials of tear drops on her bedside as do I have bottles of water.
When you get a respiratory illness, it's not unlike any other respiratory illness, only it's a lot worse and it lasts a lot longer, and it's a lot harder to recover.
SEN. PRYOR: Let me interrupt right there, if I may. Just for clarification, you're still living in the house?
MR. KAMPF: I am still living in the house, yes.
SEN. PRYOR: And do you know -- is there any way of knowing right now what your estimated value of your home is now?
MR. KAMPF: Yes, I could tell you that number. It's zero.
SEN. PRYOR: Okay.
MR. KAMPF: There is no -- I've paid $315,000 for that house. And as Senator Nelson pointed out, I'm paying a mortgage of $1,900 a month. My bank doesn't want to hear anything from me.
My builder has basically abandoned me in trying to remedy any problem. He has not stood by my side. And I applaud the builders like Lennar and Taylor Morrison and others that have done that.
But the health effects go beyond that. We have no -- I have nose bleeds everyday. I mean it's just not an occurrence that happens once in a while, its everyday. We have rasps -- we're always having raspy throats.
And it's just an annoying situation to go around your house and look at things deteriorate that otherwise may not have happened for many, many, many years. We just -- you know, our Christmas present to our son was a very large flat screen TV. It's right now, all of the pixels are across the screen showing, and it just doesn't go away.
And we wonder every single day, what happens -- what's that doing to our health. What we do we do about that?
SEN. PRYOR: All right. Thank you for your statement.
Now, I'm going to recognize Senator Landrieu for her statements. She is actually chairing another subcommittee, so she is going to have to race out after this statement.
Go ahead, Senator Landrieu.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Let me thank -- begin by thanking Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Hutchison for agreeing to this hearing. And particularly, Mr. Chairman, thanking you for your focus on this particular issue and the issue of defective products. This being just the latest and unfortunately a pattern that we are beginning to see, of products coming into this country that are very questionable in term of their quality and very, very concerning to our constituents.
I'm just going to be very brief. I've submitted a much longer written testimony. But -- because I am chairing a Small Business hearing at the same time, let me just say, Mr. Chairman, that I have received numerous, numerous contacts to my office given that we believe that the state of Louisiana has second to Florida the greatest number of homes affected by this particular product.
Just one that I will read into the testimony this morning is the fire chief in St. Bernard Parish. Not a man or family unfamiliar with tragedy since every home in St. Bernard Parish was destroyed, except for five, just four years ago. The fire chief would be one of the guys that stayed when everyone else left to try to help save people and restore the parish.
He himself has testified to me that the door hinges and shower heads and metal objects in his home are turning black. They are corroding inside of the home. He had a positive reading of hydrogen sulfide in the bathrooms of his home after showers. Evidently, it's something do with the heat, and humidity makes the situation worse.
He says we've put everything into our home, just like this gentleman here has testified. They have no money to redo it. They were probably out of their home for three and a half, four years. They are still trying to pioneer in the parish that is struggling to come back. He spent his entire life savings finishing this home.
This is just one example, Mr. Chairman, of our many constituents in Louisiana that are looking to this committee for action and for support. They don't know where to turn. They don't know what to do.
So I hope that the bill that we're considering will give some immediate relief. But there is so much more that probably has to be done which is under the jurisdiction of this committee.
Let me also say for those that want someone, even more well-known than the chief of St. Bernard Parish, is the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, now he is living in a house that he doesn't think that he can keep his family in.
And this is just goes on, and on, and on, from constituents and, you know, modest neighborhoods to middle income neighborhoods to very high end neighborhoods.
So I don't know, Mr. Chairman, what the solution is. But I wanted to come give voice this morning to my constituents who are looking to us for answers.
And I thank you for your work that you've done in this area.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you.
SEN. NELSON: And as Senator Landrieu goes, I just received word that they are working out that our $2 million for this next round of testing is going to be in the supplemental bill that we are going to pass today on Appropriations.
SEN. LANDRIEU: That will help.
And I thank Mr. Noel for being here.
SEN. NELSON: I want to ask a series of questions -- and Senator Warner and Senator Klobuchar, whenever you all want to interject, just please do. We just got a time constraint because we're going to have a vote momentarily.
I want to ask the -- I want to see first of all, why we have not had responsiveness from the EPA. It's my understanding that the CPSC and the EPA started receiving reports that there was a problem with this drywall, late last year.
And so February the 13th of this year, I sent a letter to the EPA requesting that the Agency look at this problem. I didn't receive a response until early May. And that was a letter dated April the 30th. February the 13th to April the 30th.
May I get some assurance here today from the EPA that you're going to be more responsive in the future, Ms. Southerland?
MS. SOUTHERLAND: Absolutely, yes, Senator Nelson. We have moved out quite rapidly. We've already given the subcommittee the copy of the report we've done of the initial drywall analysis.
We actually got -- ATSDR gave us two Chinese drywall samples taken right out of homes in Florida. And we on our own went out and bought four U.S. drywall samples. And we've gotten those analyses done.
We are also moving out with a large group of people from all the federal agencies as well as from Louisiana and Florida health departments to develop an indoor air monitoring protocol. And we will begin testing that protocol, checking it out the first of June.
We've already selected houses for Florida and we are in the process this week of selecting houses in Louisiana where we will test out that protocol. And right now, we hope to have a fully federal- state agreed-upon indoor air monitoring protocol done by the end of June.
SEN. NELSON: Senator Warner.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): Can I just interject here?
SEN. NELSON: Sure.
SEN. WARNER: This is not a Florida or Louisiana-only problem. And I can tell you we've got folks in Virginia, and particularly down in Hampton Roads. I know Congressman Nye who represents Virginia Beach and the Hampton Roads area actually visited some of the homes that were affected.
And, you know, if we are going to start doing this testing procedure, I want to make it very clear that this should not only take place in Louisiana and Florida, but all affected communities need to have this testing taking place.
We've got actually, I believe, folks here from Virginia in the audience. And you're going to have -- I'm sure Senator Klobuchar is going to add that this perhaps concerns some of her constituents too.
So I want assurance from the EPA that actions taken in Florida and Louisiana will also be taken in other states that have had the reports of this kind of disaster taking place. Because this is -- it's a health disaster.
It is, Mr. Kampf indicated, a financial disaster. And I want to commend, Senator Nelson.
I know he and Senator Martinez put forward legislation on this. They've been kind of the early warning lights for the Senate overall, but this is a national problem, and we expect a solution that all communities affected are going to be taken into consideration.
MS. SOUTHERLAND: Yes, sir. The testing I was referring to is just to test out the indoor air protocol. We've got a draft that's circulating now amongst the technical experts, and we just need a few houses to testify --
SEN. WARNER: But let me be clear. I mean -- as from Senator Landrieu's comments, and I would imagine, you know, from Senator Nelson and Mr. Kampf's testimony here today, it seems what I've heard is that some of this may be affected by humidity. It may be affected by other weather patterns.
And I have great respect for our colleagues in Florida and Louisiana, but their weather patterns are different than the patterns in Virginia. So it is -- that's not a good enough answer that you're saying you're going to be testing out in the climates of these two states when we've got this problem happening -- imagine around the country. So I expect this -- that testing to place -- take place elsewhere.
MS. SOUTHERLAND: Yes, sir. And I think CPSC has a full plan for that.
MS. SALTZMAN: Good morning, Senator Warner. I'm Lori Saltzman. I'm with the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
And you are absolutely right. This isn't just the -- an issue that focuses in the southern region of our country. We are well aware that there are issues in the Norfolk area.
In Virginia, we've actually collected some samples down there and we do have some investigations that are going on in some of the homes there. We do plan on sending a team down to look at some of the homes and take a look at some of the corrosion issues.
SEN. WARNER: I think there may be people --
MS. SALTZMAN: Just as we did --
SEN. WARNER: There seem to be folks that are actually in the community nodding no in the background. So you're saying to me that you have got teams and have taken samples of Norfolk.
MS. SALTZMAN: What I'm -- we have received some samples from -- of the Chinese drywall. And we do have some investigators that are going to be doing in-depth investigations --
SEN. WARNER: In Norfolk?
MS. SALTZMAN: In the homes.
SEN. WARNER: When? When?
MS. SALTZMAN: I'm talking to the consumers that have been assigned. They should be happening within, you know, a week. And that we also are going to be sending a team of investigators down, much as we did in Florida, and that we have plans for that. And we are well --
SEN. WARNER: So again on -- for the record you are sending an investigating team into Virginia --
MS. SALTZMAN: Yeah.
SEN. WARNER: -- within the next week?
MS. SALTZMAN: They should be down there doing an in-depth --
SEN. WARNER: So I'll expect a report back on when that investigating team is in Virginia and the results of that investigation?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes.
SEN. WARNER: And we can see that within the next two weeks?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you.
SEN. PRYOR: Ms. Klobuchar -- Senator Klobuchar.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Thank you very much. And first, thank you, Senator Pryor. I'm a member of the Consumer Subcommittee, and we worked very hard, as you know, last year on the Chinese children's products issue and got some results on that. I want to thank Senator Nelson as well for his work on that, and Senator Martinez.
And as Senator Warner said, we have what, 13 states now that are seeing this, is that correct, Ms. Saltzman?
MS. SALTZMAN: Sixteen.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Sixteen states.
MS. SALTZMAN: And the District of Columbia.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay. And this may be just the tip of the iceberg. And what I'm looking at is further down if your tests show us -- Mr. Kampf has testified here that this is a major problem -- what would be the logistics of a recall of products like this? Just how would this work?
MS. SALTZMAN: As you've indicated, this is -- the logistics could be an issue. It is not like a recall that we've had with toys. It would take into account a lot of different factors. And we would have to rely upon, in addition to CPSC's authorities, some of the authorities for some of the other agencies.
And it would require our legal division, and also our compliance division after we provided the technical data to them to work something out with the other federal agencies.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Do we have any idea how many homes this drywall was used in nationally?
MS. SALTZMAN: No, we don't.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Does anyone else have an answer? Do we have any historical example of when there has been a recall like this in multiple constructed homes?
MS. SALTZMAN: No, I -- I'm not aware of any that I can speak to at this point.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Now, I know you had said that the CPSC has been in contact with your counterpart agency in China, and there is continuing exchange of information. What kind of information are you exchanging?
MS. SALTZMAN: We have posed a number of questions to them about the origin of the mined product and also about the process, and perhaps what kind of additives may have been included in the drywall.
We wanted to learn a little bit how it's made. We've actually a plan on going to visit China and we anticipate that the Chinese officials will be here next week, and we're hoping for cooperation.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And do we know how many factories it came from, this drywall? Is it multiple producers or is it one?
MS. SALTZMAN: The knowledge that we have is that it's more than one.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: All right. I will as -- I would echo what the other senators have said here when you hear Mr. Kampf's story and the story of these other people. This is something that we have to do on a expedited basis.
But if in fact the tests show and verify what we're hearing here, this is going to be a major logistical issue for the country and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
MS. SALTZMAN: I agree.
And excuse me -- I'm sorry for interrupting --
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: That's okay --
MS. SALTZMAN: I can guarantee that the staff from -- the staff all the way up to the commission that we're really working diligently on this. And we feel very passionate about it. We're consumers and homeowners ourselves. And this is a very high priority for the agency.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay.
MS. SALTZMAN: We've put a lot of resources into it. And in addition, as I said, the staff is very passionate about helping the homeowners. Many of us have been there for decades.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Yeah.
MS. SALTZMAN: And this is our life's work. And we felt very --
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Very good. Okay.
MS. SALTZMAN: -- compassionate about it.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
SEN. NELSON: Mr. Chairman, in addition to Mr. Kampf's testimony I have testimony here from five other homeowners in Florida. I want to make that a part of the record.
SEN. PRYOR: Without objection.
SEN. NELSON: Now, I think Ms. Southerland you get the gist that in an emergency letter that comes to you, a reply two-and-a-half months later is not acceptable. And I would expect the EPA on the basis of what you're hearing now to be prompted as the Consumer Product Safety Commission as well within the jurisdiction that you have.
Now, let me ask you about the test that you've already done. As I stated earlier, you came up with Chinese drywall has three different elements, different than American drywall. One was sulfur, two was strontium, and three were organic compounds that are found in acrylic paint. What do you think about these substances?
MS. SOUTHERLAND: Well, I think all of them have the potential for being a potential health effect problem. We're working with ATSDR and CDC. Of course they cannot use this kind of elemental composition information to guess at the exposure to humans by these compounds.
So the next step is to do the chamber studies that CPSC has underway in the indoor air monitoring. Because that will allow us to see which of these compounds that are in the drywall will actually be exposed to a person living in the home. So we have to do that exposure analysis.
SEN. NELSON: Now, as I understand it, there has been some jurisdictional flap here about who was going to pay for this next test that is critical to simulate the conditions of heat and humidity to see what gases come off of this thing.
And that's why you threw it back in our laps in order to get $2 million for you, which we're going to do today in the supplemental bill. But were something to happen like that, that we didn't get it through this supplemental Appropriations bill, it is our expectation within the monies that you have in your two respective agencies that you will go on and get this next test done. Is that understood?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes, Senator. In fact, at the Commission we've already made some adjustments and shifted some of the resources around so that we can work on this issue and do it as expeditiously as possible. We're not waiting for that $2 million, that we've already made some changes.
But thank you very much. We do appreciate the efforts on our behalf to be able and on behalf of your constituents to be able to get these studies done.
I think as Ms. Southerland has indicated the next steps after their preliminary study is to do some of the chamber testing and the indoor air testing. But I do want to assure you that in addition to doing the scientific testing, we're doing the appropriate investigative work as well.
We are inspecting firms. We have sent letters out to the major importers. And most importantly, we have issued information to the homeowner on what to do if they are -- have health effects or they see corrosion of some metal. And that has been up on our website.
And we're also working to have a website up that should be up momentarily, kind of a one stop shop for the homeowners where they can get information from all the agencies.
So we're moving along simultaneously on a lot of different tracks to be able to resolve this. And we want to resolve it and be able to provide the appropriate remedy for the homeowner as well as be able to have the basic science and the factual information so that we could hold accountable responsible parties.
SEN. NELSON: You understand that I don't want words. I want action.
MS. SALTZMAN: I understand that completely.
SEN. NELSON: Okay. Now, let me just assure you that soon you're going to get a new chairman and two new members. And since they have to come through this committee, I can assure you they are going to be educated by the time they get confirmed about Chinese drywall.
MS. SALTZMAN: I can assure you they will be educated, if they are not already educated.
SEN. NELSON: So, well, I can tell you the chairman to be is already educated. So --
MS. SALTZMAN: Well --
SEN. NELSON: -- you're going to have the leadership that is going to try to tackle this issue.
Now, let me come back to Ms. Southerland. Of these three elements that you found in this test, would you expect to find those elements in American-made gypsum drywall?
MS. SOUTHERLAND: The four samples of gypsum that we took, we didn't find any sulfur at all. We did find some strontium at lower levels granted, but again it's just four samples. And the propionic acids that we found look like they are associated with paint. So we actually do have to do further checking there to see if it's really the gypsum itself, or if it's the paint that was on the gypsum.
The Chinese drywall was taken from a house, so it was painted. Where the U.S. drywall we looked at was unpainted. It was stock material. So we have a little additional work we have to do on that.
SEN. NELSON: Here is some Chinese drywall for you. It is not painted. We sawed it out of the wall in that picture that I showed you, so I've got some for you right here, without paint.
MS. SOUTHERLAND: In addition, we have some samples that haven't been put into homes yet, and so that's a very valuable type of sample from a scientific standpoint. Because it's something that isn't in the home and it hasn't had the ability to absorb anything else, so we do have a number of samples that we'll be testing.
SEN. NELSON: Ms. Southerland, is it possible that the Chinese added some chemical or element during the production process, like a fungicide?
MS. SOUTHERLAND: Our data doesn't show that to date. What we're going to have to do, I think, is take a look at once we get into the chamber testing, exactly what is off-gas from the drywall.
All we have from our samples, unfortunately, these elemental characterizations just tell you the total number of compounds that are actually inside the drywall and don't give you an idea of what a human would be exposed to.
SEN. NELSON: Is it possible that the Chinese company would have recycled old gypsum board as part of the production process for this so-called new wall board?
MS. SALTZMAN: Actually those are some of the questions that we are trying to answer ourselves. I do want to indicate also that not to get too bogged down in the science of some of the testing program, but to follow on to what Ms. Southerland has mentioned. It's that after we conduct some of the elemental analysis to find out what's in some of the drywall samples.
Again, the chamber studies that we're going to be conducting, we're going to be able to isolate and characterize specific emissions, and that we're also going to be doing an in-home study where we're going to look at the emissions that are within their home environment.
We're also going to be able to look at the emissions behind the walls, and that's going to be a great bonus to the scientific evidence to be able to pinpoint it and link it back to the drywall.
SEN. NELSON: Ms. Southerland, if in this subsequent testing the EPA finds something in the drywall that is a regulated chemical hazardous to human health, what will the agency do about it and how fast will you do it?
MS. SOUTHERLAND: Well, I think, then we would have to look at the evidence that we have and the authorities we have available. So we have some opportunity under our Toxic Substances and Control Act to look at the regulation of products. But I think that would just have to be something that we looked at after we got some evidence.
SEN. PRYOR: Let me -- if I may just to give a brief update, we hear that there is a vote coming on the Senate floor soon. We heard it's going to be at 11:00 o'clock, and its 11:20, they haven't called it yet. So that's what we call Senate time around here. But anyway they are working through that and trying to get that called.
So let me go ahead and turn it over to Senator Warner and get him to ask some questions, and then we'll go to Senator Klobuchar.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I guess one question I would have is -- and I think Senator Nelson is asking the right questions in terms of finding the analysis, the source, how bad. But for either Ms. Saltzman, Southerland, or Dr. McGeehin, or Dr. Krause, what do you say to Mr. Kampf during the meantime?
MS. SALTZMAN: I think what I --
SEN. WARNER: You say, just suck it up. What are you -- now what are you -- what's the answer in the meantime?
MS. SALTZMAN: No, absolutely not. I think that what we have said and what we will say is that if a homeowner does have health symptoms, they -- absolutely, the first thing, should consult with their physician.
And if they find that there is corrosion in their home and they are concerned and they feel that it's affecting the wiring in the home then they need to contact an electrician.
If there is a belief that there is something that's affecting the gas fuel piping, absolutely, get out of the house, call up the utilities.
SEN. WARNER: And other than saying go see a doctor, what relief?
MS. SALTZMAN: We don't have the relief. We don't have the answer at this point. We don't know the causative agent. And I think the relief is going to be something that's probably more than what the Consumer Product Safety Commission will be doing alone.
As we indicated before, this is going to be an effort that's going to have to be addressed by other agencies. I do want to remind you though I'm a toxicologist. I really can't speak for the agency. I can't speak to the legal issues and I can't speak to the compliance or the policy issues.
SEN. WARNER: Mr. Kampf, I don't know whether that was the reassuring answer you were looking for.
MR. KAMPF: With all due respect to the answer, I'm not sure -- I'm not the only one in this situation.
SEN. WARNER: I understand, yes.
MR. KAMPF: There are many other families that I would like to make sure that I represent during this testimony. But it's disheartening to know that I worked for the federal government for 37- 1/2 years and I know how long it takes to get things done.
And it's unfortunate that if I'm -- I'm on the other side of the table now. If it takes that long to do it, to get remediation, I can't afford to just lift my family up and move to another house. I still have -- as Senator Nelson said, I still have mortgage to pay and the banks are going to come after me if I don't pay it.
So I would like to see something done quickly, more quickly than -- I'm sure anybody at this table would like to say, but I want it done quickly. I don't know how that can happen, but sooner.
I just really feel -- I feel left, sort of, up in the air, and I'm not sure what to say.
SEN. WARNER: Has -- Senator Nelson, I know you can -- you and the chairman have taken lead on this. Are there any ability to look at -- be my assistance or other assistance?
This is clearly a -- the notion that we're going through the appropriate scientific analysis. But the appropriate scientific analysis, it sounds to me, could take additional months. In the interim you have again a financial hazard, but even worse, a health hazard.
I mean, Dr. McGeehin or Dr. Krause, do you want to make a comment here?
MR. MCGEEHIN: Senator, we are moving as quickly as we can. And I think everybody at this table realizes the urgency of this. But we do have to have scientific data on which to base it.
Right now, I haven't seen any data that really tells me what the people are being exposed to. I have some pretty some good ideas based on what was found in the elemental work, and what's happening to the metal in the homes. I think there is no doubt that there is corrosive materials in the air.
And I think based on the information I've looked that came out of Louisiana and Florida that there is no doubt that that corrosive material is causing health problems. I think that's true.
I still think we have to get good exposure data on which to base our decisions and we're moving as quickly as we can on that. Once that happens, from what I have seen of this issue, I think it's going to be difficult to determine what the next step will be.
Because one of the -- when we dealt with a similar issue with formaldehyde in trailers, we had a nice listing of who was living in which trailers and we were able to sample around that and we had FEMA that had a roster of people and they were able to move the people out of the homes.
One of the questions that has come up repeatedly in this issue is, do we know how many homes are affected? Do we know where those homes are? Do we know how many people are in those homes? There is a tremendous number of variables that have to be dealt with before we can even talk about what the remediation might be in this situation.
But I want to convey to the senators that the agencies that are working on this do have a sense of urgency about it and do understand what this gentleman and other people are going through since we all have houses and we all have mortgages, and we all know what would have happen if that happened to us.
But we do have to have at least some scientific data that tells us what the compounds are, and where they're coming from before we can decide on what that remediation should be.
SEN. WARNER: Dr. Krause, do you want to add anything?
MR. KRAUSE: Senator, Florida has moved forward in a direction to not only identify some of the compounds that have been -- that are being emitted from the gypsum drywall imported from China.
We've identified three compounds that can be detected in a laboratory, and we've also reached out through some of the consultants for builders who've conducted testing in homes. We've seen what is considerably a small database of 79 samples taken at homes by one builder's consultants, ENVIRON International.
However, these data are very sparse. The concentrations that are demonstrated are very low, in the low parts per billion range. And these -- it's difficult to reconcile the amount of corrosion that we're seeing in these homes with the low concentrations.
However, the symptoms that are being described by homeowners are fairly consistent, but they are also very ubiquitous. It would be hard to find a group of people that hasn't experienced some of these symptoms.
We do need to validate the estimated number of homes that are affected, because that tells us how many homes we need to be testing and looking at overall.
We also need to conduct a wide scoping study to measure these chemical exposures. I'm not only concerned with the primary corrosive gases, but the interactions those gases may have with other household chemicals, paints, varnishes and alike, and secondary compounds that are created from those chemical interactions. And that has not been examined to any detail.
We also need to determine the risks of these corrosion hazard with fire and electrical shock hazards in homes. We've reached out to our State Fire Marshal's lab, and they are moving forward with some preliminary studies to evaluate the effects on smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.
SEN. WARNER: Are there any, you know, interim advice you can give to these homeowners, in terms of fans or other things that would circulate, you know --
MR. KRAUSE: Well, we have -- on our website we have what we believe to be some of the most comprehensive data and information to first determine if your home is affected.
We have a self assessment guide that includes photographs, images, a walkthrough for the homeowners which does seem to be very helpful. And at least people who think they may have the problem, they can at least rule themselves out as to not having this problem. And we've received positive feedback there.
We've also got links for the people to communicate and participate in a survey with our county health departments, that's capturing some demographics information, as well as to register a complaint with the attorney general's office.
SEN. WARNER: What do you -- I mean, and I know, Senator Klobuchar -- but what do you tell them to do to mitigate the circumstances if they can't afford to move out in the interim.
MR. KRAUSE: We currently do not have evidence based or scientifically based recommendations. Here is one of the problems. In Florida, we have a lot of heat and humidity as well recognized.
Simply opening the windows could exacerbate the problem. By increasing the humidity in the homes, you may actually increase the rate of which the compounds come out of the drywall. Also opening the windows increases the amount of condensation that forms on the air conditioning coils causing them to fail at a faster rate.
Filtration has been recommended, or is being looked at by some of the manufacturers. However, I have very temperate expectations for these filters to actually be able to remove these compounds from the air at a decent rate.
SEN. PRYOR: Senator -- (off mike.)
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much.
I was just -- Dr. Krause, I was listening here thinking, in Minnesota we like to open our windows when it gets warm, because we're closed in. And the thought that these people who have these homes, and they are in areas like Florida, Louisiana, or Virginia, wherever they are, they can't even open their windows because they think it might make it worse.
It just shows to me how enormous this problem is, and how little we know about how extensive it can be and what they should do. I mean, I can't imagine having a home and being told, oh, you can't open the windows because it might make your kid sick.
And so one of the questions I had, Dr. McGeehin, and I know that Senator Warner explored this with you some, but you said you were not exactly sure what the causes are but you have some suspicions. And I would think these corrosive -- the corroding that you're seeing with those showers, stems, and those kinds of things certainly is a clue, but you said you have some ideas. Could you elaborate on that?
MR. MCGHEEHIN: Well, I think we have data that points us towards sulfur products. The elemental analysis that was done by EPA ERT found sulfur in the Chinese drywall. And I -- my understanding is that some of the preliminary data that was taken by builders and others found some sulfur products in the air.
Again, I think you're getting it from all panel members that we need more valid data, and we need to have it in real-time situations in the homes with the temperature and humidity.
But what will happen is what -- when the scoping visits are done, and the more comprehensive analysis is done what this normally does is it begins to focus in on the compounds that might be causing the problem and then the future analysis can focus on those. It can be done more rapidly, and it can be done more extensively.
I would think that we may end up focusing on sulfur products. But there may be some other compounds in the air that we need to look at and eliminate first.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I chair the subcommittee on the Environment and Public Works Committee on Children's Health. And a lot of times we see with these types of problems that kids aren't just little adults, that they actually can suffer more and be more affected by toxics in the air. Do you think that's possible here?
MR. MCGHEEHIN: Yes, its possible here, Senator, for the various reasons that you just mentioned. They are not little adults. They breathe actually at a different breathing zone for gases that may be important.
They are developing many of their systems that can be affected, and including the respiratory system. And they in fact frequently are impacted to a greater extent by environmental contamination than full grown adults.
MS. KLOBUCHAR: And are there kids that are showing some of these symptoms?
MR. MCGHEEHIN: From the data that I have seen from Louisiana and from Florida, that many of the people who are calling into the hotlines are reporting that their children are having symptoms similar to what the adults are seeing, upper respiratory irritation, sometimes asthma exacerbations, scratchy throat, runny and burning eyes, that sort of thing.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And you mentioned that it's possible these are symptoms you would see with other -- colds or other diseases.
It's also possible -- is it also possible we're seeing an underreporting because people think they have colds and other things?
MR. MCGHEEHIN: Oh, certainly. I think whenever the -- when you have reports of people who have to call into hotlines you can have underreporting, you can have biased reporting. But it does give us an indication when we're seeing through two different states -- through two different systems, some symptoms that are showing up regularly and I think that we are seeing some consistent symptoms.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And --
MS. SALTZMAN: I can tell you that we have had consistency in the data that we've collected from the 16 states where we've had reports. There is a commonality to the symptoms.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And do a high number of these show this corrosion on like the showerheads and things like this too?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I would think that once you see that and then you see the symptoms it's hard to think that they may not be connected.
The -- have you seen this, Mr. McGeehin, in other construction materials before? Not these exact symptoms but there have been other examples.
I keep trying to draw on history here because to me this seems like such an enormous problem with these construction materials and figuring out then what to do with these homes and recalling and tearing up walls. And I just -- do you -- have you seen this with other construction materials?
I suppose asbestos is a problem, has been a problem in the past. Do you have other examples?
MR. MCGEEHIN: Well, basically what you're seeing with some of these symptoms are what we frequently see when we have indoor air contamination. Something you may have heard of called sick building syndrome frequently has symptoms like these where people have upper respiratory, they have -- more often they have colds and flu-like symptoms.
So it's not unusual to see these types of symptoms when we're dealing with environmental contamination. Now, your specific question, Senator, have I seen this with building materials? CDC hasn't done a lot of work with building materials. And I think if you're thinking about history, I think this particular exposure and the way it's developing is historical. I don't think we've seen this before.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: How about in China? It's pretty humid there, and I was just there. Have they had reports or other countries of things like this?
MS. SALTZMAN: We haven't heard of any in China. I'm not sure what kind of construction -- building construction they have, if it's similar to the type of construction that we have in the United States.
I do want to add something else. When our team did go down to Florida, they did experience the same kinds of symptoms that have been reported --
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: You mean your team that went just to visit and do the testing?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes. They did go. They went into the homes, and they -- in fact they were in the home with the gentleman down the --
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And so it happened really quickly. It's not just cumulative over time?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes. Yes. They noticed when they came into the house that they experienced some of the symptoms as well. And I think last month when we were here talking to Senator Nelson, we did discuss that with him.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay. Well, that's somewhat startling, I would say, that people can just get it from walking in the house.
What -- my last question here would just be -- I know that you said -- Mr. McGeehin just spoke. The -- (inaudible) -- remain with you, Ms. Saltzman, of trying to trace all these construction materials and this drywall and how you would ever do this.
I would say in response to that we have traced faulty products before. And we've done this. People have to say what kind of -- where they got their products, where they ordered them. And then you have to trace them back to what manufacturing place that they came from. I mean, that's what you've done with other kinds of products.
So I don't buy that it's just impossible to figure out where these products came from.
MS. SALTZMAN: We're not saying it's impossible, we're saying that it's challenging. But we are taking an approach, and a very aggressive approach.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay, all right. Okay, very good. Thank you.
SEN. PRYOR: Let me make one observation for our federal and state witnesses if possible, and that is this is a very time-sensitive problem. And I'm reminded a little bit of a conversation I recently had with Secretary of Commerce Locke, where -- when they were trying to figure out how to allocate some of the stimulus money and take care of some of that.
His professional staff said, "Well, it's going to take us about six months to go through this process." And he said, "You know, this is economic stimulus money. We don't need six months. We need it in six days." And so he cracked the whip and he got them to do it.
And I know that everybody is working hard on this, but I would encourage all the federal and state agencies to work overtime trying to get to some clarity on what we're talking about here.
And I understand with the scientific issues, some of that does take time, and you got to be careful, and you have to do it right. I'm not saying cut corners and don't do it right. But I would just strongly encourage our federal and state folks to really work together and get to a good understanding of what we're dealing with here, and then take the appropriate action.
SEN. NELSON: Dr. McGeehin, as you put together the draft fact sheets for medical personnel share with the committee what symptoms you're telling the doctors to look for?
MR. MCGEEHIN: The same symptoms that you had spoken about, Senator, and that I mentioned earlier, and that we're seeing with two -- both hotlines from the states; the upper respiratory irritation, the eye irritation. I can't remember the fact sheet verbatim, Senator. But I believe we do talk about the potential for asthma exacerbations, but I'm not certain of that. But the symptoms that we are seeing in both of the states that have the hotlines going.
SEN. NELSON: Have you seen these kind of symptoms in exposure to other chemicals in other cases?
MR. MCGEEHIN: Well these -- in industrial settings, yes, sir.
SEN. NELSON: And give us an example, what type of cases?
MR. MCGEEHIN: Well, these sorts of symptoms can come up when you're dealing with sulfur compounds in industrial settings.
Hydrogen sulfide can cause these sorts of symptoms. Carbon disulfide can cause these sorts of symptoms. There are other reagents and products that may cause these symptoms. But this -- these symptoms would not be out of line with what we might see with hydrogen -- I mean, sulfur compounds.
SEN. NELSON: Dr. Krause, you're the state toxicologist.
How many homes do you think need to be tested before we get helpful test results?
MR. KRAUSE: Senator, we may be able to see something in the preliminary testing of the three homes. If something jumps out, and there's an obvious health hazard from that, we will certainly report that.
However, the more perplexing question comes if nothing -- no specific or group of chemicals appears to be at levels that would explain the symptoms or the corrosion where a much greater understanding is necessary. That goes back to understanding the number of homes that this may have been used in, and test -- and installed. So it's going to be well passing into the dozens, if not hundreds of homes that need to be examined.
We may not reach statistical significance is the point I'm trying to make. However, we can achieve some useful information by looking at a variety of the construction styles, types, sizes of homes, whether it's a town home or a 7,000 square foot home. We need to look at a variety of construction types and styles.
MS. SALTZMAN: Senator Nelson, if I might add that on looking at some of the drywall samples in isolation in the chamber studies that we're -- testing that we're going to be doing will also provide some evidence for what actually is coming off the drywall. And it would actually then dovetail into in-home studies. I can assure you we don't have to wait till every single piece of data is collected in the chamber before we start the in-home sampling.
And as we're going through the in-home sampling, if something looks like its jumping out at us, and that seems to be the direction we need to go, we will actually take every steps we can to expedite the testing and move in that direction.
SEN. NELSON: If you find that there's something hazardous, and you come to that conclusion, do you recommend then to the board of the CPSC that they take immediate action with regard to stopping importation of this material.
MS. SALTZMAN: As a scientist I would provide that data to the senior managers. And it would be up to them to make those kinds of decisions.
SEN. NELSON: Okay. Let me ask you also, the CPSC has entered into talks with the Chinese government, specifically the Chinese product safety regulator. And I think that they call it the Administration for Quality Supervision, and Inspection, and Quarantine. What information have you received from them?
MS. SALTZMAN: There've been regularly scheduled phone conversations. We have posted a number of questions to them. We are hoping that they're going to be cooperative, and we'll receive answers to those questions when they're here, early in June.
SEN. NELSON: Three, possibly four, Chinese drywall specimens have been identified, Dragon, Taishan, and CNM (ph). And they are associated with the Chinese National Building Materials Company. And it's fully owned by the Chinese government.
So has that organization that I talked about, the Administration for Quality Supervision, and Inspection, and Quarantine or the Chinese Ministry Of Commerce, have they turned over any records from those companies to you, the CPSC?
MS. SALTZMAN: I'd like to be able to get back to you on that. I wouldn't be at liberty to discuss in public particulars about companies. But we'd be very happy to get back to you on that.
SEN. NELSON: Have they agreed to allow any plant inspections?
MS. SALTZMAN: We're planning to go over to China. I don't believe that we've gotten a commitment at this point. I'm -- we'll have to get back to you on that.
SEN. NELSON: Well, another company, Knauf Tianjin, have they turned over any records?
MS. SALTZMAN: Again, I can't discuss specific companies with the public here. I -- but we'd be happy to get back to you.
SEN. NELSON: All right, let me tell you, not only is the time clock clicking here with regard to peoples' health, but this is almost the first of June. And later in the year the president is going to China. And clearly this should be on his agenda.
Because at the end of the day, if this thing is really a problem, as it looks like it is, you're going to have to get the cooperation of the Chinese government to crack down on it, which, by the way, was the problem with the Chinese toys.
The Chinese government was not requiring the Chinese manufacturers to do the safety that they ought to before they exported the toys to the United States.
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes, we understand the importance of this investigation and of your questioning. We're looking at several different avenues. We've contacted a number of companies, we've done some inspections. As I said, we'll be happy to get back to you with some additional specific information.
SEN. NELSON: All right. This question you can answer, because you have jurisdiction over stopping the importation of this stuff. Tell me, how much of this stuff was imported?
MS. SALTZMAN: I'm sorry. I can't give you that answer.
SEN. NELSON: Well are you --
MS. SALTZMAN: I will get back to you on that. As I said before, I'm a toxicologist. I will get that answer back to you.
SEN. NELSON: Well, the lady behind you seems to have answers. Would you come up and identify yourself. Come on up to the microphone. Identify yourself.
MS. : I'm the general counsel. And what I -- Ms. Saltzman just doesn't have those facts --
SEN. NELSON: Okay.
MS. : -- get you those facts.
SEN. NELSON: You do?
MS. : I don't have them right with me --
SEN. NELSON: All right. You would have the answer to this question. Are you working with Customs and Border Protection to obtain this information of how much of this stuff was imported?
MS. : Yes. They've given us that information. And as we explained, when we were here on April, 30th, the difficulty there is separating out the sheets of drywall for the walls from ceiling tiles to different products. But we're working with them on that, and investigating further on those numbers. And we'll provide you with all of that as soon as we have those numbers.
SEN. NELSON: Well, you just told me something I didn't know. We could have this problem in ceiling tiles?
MS. : No, no, I'm just saying that the way the codes work for -- the tariff codes, it covers more than just drywall sheets. So we have to sort out how much of that is drywall sheets, and how much of that is ceiling tiles which do not appear to have that problem.
So we're just trying to get the right numbers, and it's an academic exercise.
We've got 44 or more letters out to importers trying to figure out who got the actual drywall sheets, so we can have those answers for you.
SEN. NELSON: Okay, Mr. Chairman, I've just got a couple of other quick areas I need to cover here. I thank you for holding this hearing because I think we're getting the problem out.
SEN. PRYOR: I want to thank you for your leadership, because this really is your hearing, this is your request. And you've done a great job asking good questions.
SEN. NELSON: Well, you're very kind. But we got a problem here, and we got to get to the bottom of it.
Now, because there is a problem, and we're all working on it, and we thank you for that. And despite my irritation, I am appreciative to you for what you're doing. It's been way too slow. But I think we're now all in the harness, pulling in the right direction.
Now, we've got another situation that we've got to address, and that is the lack of public information. In the last week, the CPSC has posted a drywall information package on its website, and we appreciate that.
Do you think it might make sense for the agencies to work in a unified information portal so the public can see the information collected by all of you federal agencies, and to see that in one place? Is this something that's been discussed?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes, in fact we are -- we'll be launching something in very short timeframe, where it's going to be one portal, like we have for recalls.gov. It'll be something similar to that, where there'll be information from each of the federal agencies.
SEN. NELSON: Okay. My concluding comment would simply be, what I want you all to do -- I won't take this stuff out because I was handling it all yesterday and I washed and washed my hands afterwards.
I want you to take a piece of the Chinese drywall and look at it in a cross section. And then I want you to take a piece of American drywall, and hold it up next to each other. And what you'll see is, first of all, that the consistency is much denser in the American gypsum drywall. And you can see that with your naked eye.
Where as there is a lot less consistency in the Chinese drywall, and it's not nearly as dense. That suggests to you that there is obviously, just by looking at it, something different, that we are now finding out these compounds are coming off. So let's all get in the harness and pull together, and get this problem solved.
And then on down the road, we've got to figure out what in the world are these people going to do. They can't afford rent, and still paying their mortgage, if they're not living in the house. I don't know what the solution to that is. Senator Warner has raised that problem; does it come in with FEMA?
I'm not sure that's a direct issue of FEMA. But you know, in -- after a natural disaster like a hurricane or an earthquake FEMA steps in to provide temporary housing for people. So we're going to have to look at something like that, because these people are no less affected by a tragedy than the victims of a hurricane, or a flood, or an earthquake.
So thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. PRYOR: Senator Warner.
SEN. WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a couple of quick comments. One, thank you Senator Nelson for your advocacy on this issue and your leadership, and again, Mr. Chairman for the hearing. I guess I'll be very brief.
One, I want to thank Ms. Saltzman for that commitment that we'll have teams in Virginia within the next week, and that your agency will get back to me within two weeks, at least indicating how many places you've tested. And I thank you for that and I'll expect to see that back within two weeks.
I would also tell you that, echoing what Senator Nelson suggested, I understand we've got to continue to do the testing. I understand we've got to continue to do the health analysis. But for gosh sake, the sooner we can get out information to folks who are living with these circumstances, on what they can do in an interim until we get some total resolution.
I just -- it's stunning to me that we have people going in and testing and having results -- having symptoms just from going into these homes to do the test. And we're leaving the homes and then saying to the homeowners, "Hang in there." That's outrageous.
And I understand we've -- that means you've got to translate that into constructive action. If it -- we will look up from the FEMA side, we will look from other -- what other sourcing side. But we desperately need that advice for folks on what they should be doing during this interim period.
And I again commend Senator Nelson, but we hear you. And I think again, Senator Klobuchar mentioned this earlier, would the number of states continue to increase? I fear that we're just at the tip of an iceberg of what could be a natural -- natural and national disaster that is both a health care disaster, and for many families it's going to be a financial disaster.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And just -- let me end by saying this. It's that I got interested in the products -- the consumer product issue, the children's toys issue when we had a little boy named, Jarnell Brown, who lost his life. He was four-years-old, and his mom got a pair of tennis shoes and she got a charm with them. And he swallowed the charm.
And he didn't die from chocking. He didn't die from his airways being blocked. He died over a period of days when the lead in that charm, which was made in China, went into his system.
And it took years to pass that law in Congress to ban these kinds of products, and to up the work that was being done. And so that's why I share my colleague's urgency here that we do everything we can to test, to figure this out. But we can't just simply say this problem is too big to solve, these homes are too big to fail.
We just have to say that we are going to figure this out. And once we figure out how toxic this is, and if it is truly causing these symptoms, including to workers that just go and inspect the houses, that we are then going to have to take some action. And it's going to be complicated if in fact the evidence bears out what we seem to be hearing. But we can't let that be the reason we don't do anything.
Because we heard that with the consumer products as well, well, it's too hard to trace where they are, we don't know where they're coming from. They're from foreign countries. We may not have jurisdiction.
We got to the bottom of them. And at least we've seen a reduction in the number of recalls in recent years. It's a very different type of analogy, but we heard some of the same arguments on the other side.
So I want to thank you. And urge you to move as quickly as possible, so we don't have other Mr. Kampf testifying here.
Second thing I would say is I'm very concerned of the effect to kids on this. And we've seen time and time again that these toxic chemicals have a greater impact on small children than they do on adults. So I hope that's something that you will be considering as you go forward.
SEN. PRYOR: Thank you Senator Klobuchar, and again thank you for your leadership, and for your advocacy on this.
Mr. Noel, I would hate for you to get out of this hearing without answering a few questions.
So now is your turn to be in the hot seat.
Let me ask, if I may. You are a homebuilder, as I understand it?
MR. NOEL: (Off mike.)
SEN. PRYOR: And you are here on behalf of the homebuilders?
MR. NOEL: Yes, sir.
SEN. PRYOR: Tell me if you can, about the homebuilders' experience with this product? When you found out there was an issue? And what you've done to try to take care of it?
MR. NOEL: Yes, sir.
As my documents show, I'm from New Orleans, and we had to live after Katrina trying to reproduce houses as fast as we possibly could because so many houses were affected. And all -- every one of those houses had to have drywall put in them. The demand for drywall was at an incredible height. And to get those houses in places for them to -- people to live, that were affected by the storms, we need a drywall.
Typically a homebuilder, when he orders a drywall, will order it, and the subcontractor will get the material. You'll order the size of the drywall, but you won't specify the manufacturer of the products. And you count on the manufacturers testing the material, and the government agencies making sure that the product comes over and it's safe.
Also, the material has to meet the building codes, the ASTM standards. And so, when we receive materials and build the homes, we don't particularly know what's in the product. We're not chemists. We're trying to get the homes up as fast as we possibly can.
We first got information about problems of this in November of 2008. We had a reporter from South Florida call the Homebuilder Association in Greater New Orleans, asked about the Chinese drywall and the problems with the air conditioner coils. Immediately began to call our builders, and our sheetrock suppliers to find out if we had any reports similar to what was in South Florida.
The first report we got was in January 2009. A gentleman in -- had reported that he'd changed out his AC coils three times. A local news channel ran a media report on the Chinese drywall for about a week, and then the reports began to flow in.
The major concern, and I will say this about builders, builders are hurting as bad as those people that are in those homes, because they want to do something with it.
The problem is it is a most inopportune time because the economy is so bad that builders have seen values of their properties cut in half. Banks aren't cooperating. And makes it difficult because you don't have the assets or the liquidity to go in and help those folks, and it hurts.
The larger builders, the publicly owned builders who have that revenue sources can do those things, but the small or medium builders that don't, can't. The insurance companies have so far, as like anything else, are backing up and don't want to step in and do anything about it.
And the most important thing today is we have to figure out how quickly we can get in and remediate these problems for these folks.
Where is that money going to come from to do that? We're estimating it's probably a $100,000 a house to gut the house and go back and put in a new drywall. Meanwhile, they have to live somewhere or they have to move the furniture out, et cetera. And it's hard to help them when you don't have that kind of money.
And we need -- the only place that we can figure out that that might come from immediately might be the federal government. Because, ultimately, the manufacturer of the product should be responsible for it. We've had product defects before. Generally, a manufacturer who wants to stay in business will show up and take care of that problem.
In this situation, it was another country. And from our perspective, we need the federal government's help in that regard.
SEN. PRYOR: Let me ask you, if I may, to follow-up on all that. You indicated that you first became aware of this at some point. I think you said November of '08 and then in '09, you know, more cases presented themselves.
Are you saying that none of your members recognized this on the way in, that there was something different about this board? I mean, did it have a different smell, or a different texture? Was there a -- were there any red flags before it was installed?
MR. NOEL: That's what was interesting. We -- when the reporter called, no one had heard about -- we knew that there was drywall that was imported, that it was different, largely it was heavier, sometimes more brittle, but no indication whatsoever that it would off-gas, or that there was a different compound in it that might cause a problem at a later date.
The only thing I can think is, of course, when we build houses they're open. And when we move people in they rely on air conditioning system, and at that point, since we're trying to make our homes more and more energy efficient we're making them tighter, and tighter, and tighter, that that off-gassing begins to show up in the air condition coils because all the air in that building is going through that air conditioner coil.
SEN. PRYOR: Okay. Let me ask this, and I'm just asking for your impression. I know you don't have any empirical data on this; I'm not going to hold you to that kind of standard at all. But just based on your familiarity with the issue, is it your impression that all of the Chinese drywall that was used has this problem, or just a percentage of it or -- can you give us a feel on that?
MR. NOEL: Yes, sir. We -- the builders that have used it, and discovered they used it have begun testing using the private firms. Some are the same ones that are in Florida. And not every house is tested with the same materials.
So it's presumption that some of the Chinese drywall has the sulfur in it and some if it doesn't. That's -- part of the biggest problem is we need a reliable protocol for testing, that everyone can rely on, to determine whether that product has it or not.
Because currently, anyone that has China -- made in China stamped on the drywall of their houses, as Mr. Kampf pointed out, is worthless. And some type of certification process to say you don't have it would help tremendously in the market place for those folks that may not have it.
SEN. PRYOR: And let me ask this. Again, I'm not going to necessarily hold you to the exactly, precisely correct answer here. But is it your understanding that generally as an industry, are you all -- have you all blacklisted this product? In other words, is anybody -- if anything's offered out there in the market place, or the homebuilder is willing to continue to install it after this?
MR. NOEL: I can just about guarantee there won't be any homebuilders buying made in China sheetrock because it would obviously be very difficult to sell a home that had that in it.
Typically, when you find out there is a problem with a product, and you're a homebuilder, because you have to market to the public, and particularly in this instance where it is so public, you steer way away from any kind of product that might potentially have the problem.
SEN. PRYOR: Let me ask another follow-up that you alluded to earlier; you didn't really get into it. I know it's an unpleasant topic, but your industry is going to have to deal with it, and that's your legal liability. I'm assuming that some of your members are in litigation on this right now?
MR. NOEL: Actually, in the state of Louisiana, they have not included builders in the litigation. I know they have in Florida. I don't know why. But largely it's been back at the suppliers and manufacturing.
SEN. PRYOR: And I assume you're not a lawyer and I'm not asking for legal opinion here.
MR. NOEL: No, I'm not.
SEN. PRYOR: But I know that one of the things that homebuilders have to deal with frequently is an implied warranty of habitability, and maybe some states may call it something else, but basically a warranty of habitability. To me it seems that that implied warranty would come into play here if you have installed a product, even without your knowledge, but you've installed a product that maybe harmful to the inhabitants, and the systems, and the value of the home.
Have you all as an industry talked about that? And -- I mean, don't you think that you have liability based on the warranty of habitability?
MR. NOEL: There in lies the question, why we need to test to know for sure the habitability and the health effects of the product. All these things are still up in the air.
Yes, there are places that have habitability in their -- in the warranty requirements. And -- but for the most part, the general liability insurance companies, the warranty insurance companies that warrant houses for construction defects, et cetera, are backing off. And the questions that need to get answered are, a, what you've discussed all day today? How do you test it? What's an acceptable level, non-acceptable level? And how does it affect your health?
Till we get some definitive answers like that, it's going to be difficult to answer that habitability question.
SEN. PRYOR: Ms. Saltzman, let me ask you if I may. You maybe touched on this earlier, but I don't think in detail. And that is, as I understand it, the CPSC has jurisdiction over this up to a point. And am I correct when I say that once it is installed and becomes a fixture in the home, the CPSC may lose jurisdiction, and other federal and state agencies will have jurisdiction at that point?
MS. SALTZMAN: It is a complicated issue. As I said before, I hate to repeat myself. I'm a toxicologist, I'd hate to be able -- hate to be speaking about the jurisdictional and the legal issues.
SEN. PRYOR: I think that's the status of the law, if I understand it. And the reason I bring that up is because to me that makes your job harder.
The CPSC is, and naturally should be the lead agency on a lot of this, should be coordinating, should be working with CDC, and others, and even EPA and all kinds of other folks. And you have to do that, and I understand that. But at some point it probably will have to be a larger solution that is purely CPSC?
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes, I would tend to agree with you.
SEN. PRYOR: And again, what I would encourage all of our federal and state folks to do is work together and try to come up with that solution. And I do think CPSC will have a huge part of that, but there will be others that have to play a pretty major role in that solution as well, as we go through this.
MS. SALTZMAN: I think I can speak for the other agencies that are here at the table, as well as say from other agencies that we may have to call upon. As I said before, I think we're all working very diligently and aggressively. We're all homeowners, and we understand the issues and the concerns for the homeowner.
SEN. PRYOR: And I hope that everyone will work with a sense of urgency just to try to get this done.
MS. SALTZMAN: Yes, we are.
SEN. PRYOR: And also, Ms. Saltzman, before I let you go, I want to say that we really appreciate the professional staff at CPSC. We understand, as a subcommittee, because we've been trying to address a lot of the issues in that agency, for a while now, about the funding restrictions and -- just the attrition that's going on there, and the lack of a modern lab and all the other issues there.
And we're not asking you to make bricks without straw, and that's one of the reasons why Senator Nelson has been so insistent to make sure you get a few more resources, just to make sure you have the ability to get this done, and get it done very quickly.
MS. SALTZMAN: Thank you.
SEN. PRYOR: And I appreciate your testimony earlier, about you not waiting on the Appropriation, if new dollars do come. You're not waiting on that, you're going ahead and acting without that. So we appreciate that very much.
MS. SALTZMAN: Thank you very much.
SEN. PRYOR: And with that what I would like to do is leave the record open for two weeks and allow senators who couldn't be here today to ask questions.
I apologize that we hurried so much in the beginning because -- you know, it's 12:10 now. We're still waiting on that 11:00 o'clock vote to start.
But, you know, our information at the time was that we were going to have a very abbreviated hearing, and we were trying to get everybody in. But definitely submit your written statements for the record; we'll do that for you.
And be available over the next couple of weeks. If senators have follow-up questions, we would love to get those to you, and get those answers from you as quickly as possible.
And this is a very important issue. And it's imperative that we as the government, the federal, and state folks work together to try to come up with the right testing, the right science, and get all that straight -- get our facts straight, and then come up with the right resolution on this.
So it's very important, and I hope I'm wrong. But I would think we'd see a lot more of it this summer, as the heat and humidity picks up around the country.
Thank you very much for being here. And with that the meeting is adjourned. (Sounds gavel.)