House approves Drywall Safety Act of 2012

Legislation intended to better regulate the use of drywall in homes and buildings is headed to the president’s desk, several years after toxic Chinese drywall became a significant problem for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The House approved the Drywall Safety Act of 2012 late Tuesday night amid the chaos regarding the “fiscal cliff.” The House approved the measure on an overwhelming 378-37 vote.

Last month, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., successfully pushed a Senate amendment to loosen some of the bill’s language and to win the support of the National Association of Home Builders, which had previously opposed the bill. Once the bill was amended, it sailed to congressional approval.

“Many Louisiana families were faced with the nightmare of building or repairing their homes with toxic drywall after Hurricane Katrina, and I want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. This is good news for homeowners that we were able to pass this swiftly before the new Congress starts (Thursday),” Vitter said in his Wednesday morning announcement. “This legislation will make sure unsafe drywall won’t be sold in the future and that drywall manufacturers are held accountable.”

For some south Louisiana residents, lawsuits remain pending from homeowners who unknowingly rebuilt homes with contaminated materials.

The Drywall Safety Act sets chemical standards for domestic and imported drywall, and also establishes guidelines for its disposal.

The bill allows the Consumer Product Safety Commission to set rules to ensure that existing toxic drywall is properly disposed. The legislation also requires all drywall used in the country to be labeled with the manufacturer’s name.

Vitter argued the legislation ensures that unsafe drywall will not be reused by requiring that drywall be labeled and that drywall manufacturers are identified. It also narrows the emphasis to focus on high sulfur content, which can diminish the value of a home, he added, and make the origin of the drywall traceable to the manufacturer.

Five of the seven members of the Louisiana House delegation backed the bill late Tuesday. Outgoing Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, voted against it, and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, did not vote. Landry and Richmond did not respond to inquiries regarding their voting actions.

The National Association of Home Builders had argued the bill was drafted too broadly, but the association backed the bill after it was amended.

The bipartisan amendment by Vitter and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Ben Nelson, D-Fla., narrows the emphasis of the legislation to focus on high sulfur content, which can diminish the value of a home, and makes the origin of the drywall traceable to the manufacturer. The Senate approved the amendment by unanimous consent without requiring a roll call vote.

The amendment also more narrowly tailored the role of the Consumer Product Safety Commission so business groups can have more of a say.