At the height of the U.S. housing boom, when building materials were in short supply, American construction companies used millions of pounds of Chinese-made drywall because it was abundant and cheap.
Now that decision is haunting hundreds of homeowners and apartment dwellers who are concerned that the wallboard gives off fumes that can corrode copper pipes, blacken jewelry and silverware, and possibly sicken people.
Shipping records reviewed by The Associated Press indicate that imports of potentially tainted Chinese building materials exceeded 500 million pounds during a four-year period of soaring home prices. The drywall may have been used in more than 100,000 homes, according to some estimates, including houses rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.
“This is a traumatic problem of extraordinary proportions,” said U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat who introduced a bill in the House calling for a temporary ban on the Chinese-made imports until more is known about their chemical makeup. Similar legislation has been proposed in the Senate.
Neither the authority nor the E.P.A. has released the results of tests of soil or the ash itself. Authority officials have said that the ash is not harmful, and the authority has not warned residents of potential dangers, though federal studies show that coal ash can contain dangerous levels of heavy metals and carcinogens.
“You’re not going to be endangered by touching the ash material,” said Barbara Martocci, a spokeswoman for the T.V.A. “You’d have to eat it. You have to get it in your body.”
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation also released a statement saying there was no indication of risk unless the ash was ingested.