A leading US distributor of picture hanging hardware has urged the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to expand its investigation of Chinese Drywall to address structural integrity.
In a letter to Todd A. Stevenson, Secretary of the CPSC, David Kurrasch, President of The Monkey Hook, LLC warns that the symptoms currently under federal scrutiny in the Chinese Drywall investigation may portend a new issue of significance to both consumers and manufacturers of wall hanger hardware: structural deterioration of drywall due to exposure to moisture.
Focus on the Chinese drywall issue initially centered on toxic fumes or ‘off-gassing’ of elemental sulfur, and the associated health risks to consumers. A subsequent report issued November 23rd by the CPSC confirmed that a link also exists between Chinese drywall and corrosion of metals.
So, how exactly are these toxins releasing? In researching the issue, Kurrasch found that exposure to moisture and humidity was often noted as a common factor in published articles related to Chinese drywall issues. Moisture is believed to accelerate the release of those toxic fumes, and metals corrosion.
“Drywall, made primarily of gypsum, absorbs moisture just as any porous material would do,” says Kurrasch. By absorbing moisture, the gypsum deteriorates, or softens. Could this be the ‘escape hatch’ for toxins, or engage a corrosive chemical reaction? “Drywall exposure to moisture needs to be studied closely. It may be the singular trigger for these problems,” contends Kurrasch.
Moisture damage could be of particular concern to companies such as Monkey Hook® which sell hardware reliant on the drywall itself, rather than a stud, to create support. “Even slight decomposition will change the original density properties and thus affect load capacities,” says Kurrasch. While most hardware distributors perform load testing of picture hangers to provide consumer guidance, none make guarantees given the uncontrollable variables, e.g. the condition of the drywall. "If the gypsum has softened from exposure to moisture, then our opinion is that the load-bearing capability of hardware which relies on the drywall itself for support could be adversely affected," states Bart Hall, Technical Services Manager at Stork Materials Testing & Inspection, an accredited testing agency in Huntington Beach, California which performs load testing for customers worldwide.
This moisture damage issue would apply to any drywall, not simply Chinese drywall. But Kurrasch believes the issue has surfaced with Chinese drywall for one simple reason: Chinese Drywall is exposed to significant moisture and humidity during ocean transport, unlike drywall produced in the U.S.
If testing confirms that moisture absorption causes drywall to decompose, which in turn triggers the off-gassing or corrosion issues, then the structural integrity of the drywall itself is an issue. Damage or injury could result if consumers hang items on moisture-damaged walls, as they may not realize load performance consistent with manufacturer’s guidance. “The impact of moisture damage should be fully addressed within the ongoing Chinese Drywall investigation,” say’s Kurrasch. Meanwhile, consumers should use caution when hanging items on any drywall that may have been exposed to excessive moisture. “Check the condition of the drywall and read all instructions carefully,” advises Kurrasch.