Elise's Newsroom Blog: Chinese drywall discovered in South Mississippi

By Elise Roberts - bio | email

PICAYUNE, MS (WLOX) - Who would have thought that many of the people who lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina would have to endure rebuilding again.

I remember moving here in late 2006. The Katrina cleanup was on-going but many South Mississippians were ready to begin rebuilding their homes. Some moved to different parts of the coast. Others decided to stay put.

But no one ever imagined they would be faced with gutting their homes again because it may have been built with defective drywall.

As I researched the story, I learned that after Hurricane Katrina there was a shortage of drywall, so some builders started buying imported Chinese drywall.

I also discovered that the drywall from China does not contain pure gypsum, which is the industry standard. Instead, the drywall contains a mix of gypsum and cellulose. When the two are combined, they deteriorate and emit sulfuric gas.

Drywall concerns are big problem in Florida and are quickly growing throughout the southeast.

Attorney Steve Mullins is representing several families in Mississippi and Alabama.

I wanted a firsthand account of what defective drywall can do to a home, so I followed the attorney to the Whitfield's Picayune home. The family relocated to Picayune after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home in Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish.

When I pulled up to the Picayune subdivision last week, I thought, "Wow, these are beautiful homes."  But when I walked inside the Whitfield's custom brick home, my thoughts quickly changed. There was an awful rotten egg smell throughout the home. A smell the family is immune to.

"We don't even notice," said Chris Whitfield. "It's been like this so long. But everyone that visits say they can smell it."

I was thinking, 'Oh, you can definitely smell it.'

Chris, Rachel and their attorney walked me through their home. They showed me the A/C unit which was corroding again. So were other major appliances.

There were also other obvious signs of corrosion like metal picture frames, bathroom fixtures and mementos throughout the home.

But I wanted to see the source of the problem, so I climbed into the couple's attic (in three inch pumps and pantyhose) to see the alleged destructive drywall for myself.

Their home was built using drywall from the company Knauf, a German manufacture that's at the center of the drywall controversy.

"We couldn't believe it when we saw it," Rachel said. "But now everything makes sense."

When I sat down to interview the couple, I noticed a lot of coughing: Coughing from the adults, coughing from the two-year-old, even coughing from the baby.

Like many other homeowners who say their homes were built with Chinese drywall, the Whiteheads believe the drywall is to blame for the family's respiratory problems. But health officials are still investigating those claims.

The toddler is taking antibiotics and the baby gets breathing treatments.

The problems don't end there. Since drywall claims are so new, Chris and Rachel say their home's insurance company isn't giving them much help, and neither is their builder.

Right now, they say they're in no position to tear out the drywall, continue to pay their mortgage and rent an apartment while the problem is being fixed.

This is quickly becoming the reality of many people who have drywall complaints.

It saddens me to think that the young family and thousands of other homeowners have to 'wait it out' while officials investigate Chinese drywall. Who knows how much physical and financial damage this could ultimately cause?

If the claims are proven to be accurate, Chinese drywall could easily become one of the largest consumer tragedies in U.S. history.

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