Georgia-Pacific Gypsum, 84 Lumber, and potentially any other LBM dealer that sold GP drywall in Florida since 2004 are the targets of a class-action lawsuit filed this week claiming that GP and 84 sold and distributed drywall that caused sulfur-related problems similar to recent complaints made against Chinese drywall.

The suit brought by Michael Swidler, a builder from Tavares, Fla., and his wife Jill Swidler in essence attacks the use in drywall of synthetic gypsum--a product that has been sold for years and that is being touted now as a green building material. The filing names as defendants GP Gypsum, 84, and "other supply companies not yet identified." 

The action was filed Friday, April 24, in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Ocala Division. The lead attorney for the plaintiff is Brian Warwick of the law firm of Varnell & Warwick in The Villages, Fla. Janet Varnell of that firm is a board member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. 

According to the suit, Michael Swidler--a builder who has worked 15 years for Lennar Homes, Eagle Homes, and Deluca Homes--ordered 289 sheets of GP ToughRock drywall from 84's Tavares, Fla., store in May 2006 to be used in building a house for his family. The Michael and Jill Swidler and their two children moved into the home in October 2006. 

In early 2007, "the plumbing fixtures and several silver picture frames in the plaintiffs' home started to corrode," the suit maintains. In January 2008, coils in the house's HVAC unit developed a leak. The coils were replaced, but in July 2008 they sprung another leak. The family's microwave quit working in April 2008 because a keypad stopped working properly, in August 2008 the Swidlers' year-old TV set died, and in February 2009 the dishwasher failed because copper wiring in the unit had deteriorated. 

“The smoke detectors in the plaintiffs' home randomly go off without cause, and the home has a strong sulfur odor throughout," the suit reads. "All the copper ground wires attached to every light-switch and outlet in the home have turned black and are rapidly oxidizing." And pieces of Jill Swidler's jewelry has turned black, it says. By mid-April 2009, the Swidlers moved out of the house. 

Similar complaints have been made in Florida and other southeastern states regarding drywall manufactured in China, but according to GP product sheets, its ToughRock drywall is fabricated in the United States and Canada. Nevertheless, the suit alleges, "this consumer class action claims that the issues surrounding the dangerous chemicals used to create the synthetic gypsum used in modern day drywall have infiltrated American-based manufacturers as well." 

The culprit, according to the lawsuit, is the large amount of sulfur contained in synthetic gypsum. Synthetic gypsum is a byproduct created after coal is pulverized and fed into power generation plants. 

"When synthetic gypsum is used to manufacture drywall, the end product contains excessive amounts of sulfur-based pollutants," the suit maintains. "When the exterior of Florida homes containing synthetic gypsum drywall become heated due to normal Florida temperatures, the air temperature inside the wall cavity between the outer shell of the home and the inner drywall becomes significantly elevated. These elevated temperatures combined with Florida's humidity cause sulfur dioxide gas to be released ... [causing] significant oxidation of various metals that lie in close proxmity to the drywall." 

GP and 84 "had a duty to exercise reasonable care in inspecting, marketing, and/or selling drywall placed into the stream of commerce, including a duty to assure that the product would perform as intended and would not cause and/or did not cause damage as described herein," the suit asserts. "Defendants breached their duty by failing to exercise ordinary care." 

The suit alleges GP and 84 broke Florida's statute regarding the drywall's "implied warranty of merchantability," as well as a statute dealing with "breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose." 

In Eighty Four, Pa., an 84 spokesman said the company doesn't comment on issues in litigation. 

In Atlanta, GP spokesman Steve Church said the company doesn't recall ever getting a complaint from the Swidlers about the drywall. " It's disappointing they chose a lawsuit without first informing us of the issues," he said. “Georgia-Pacific, like other domestic manufacturers, has been using synthetic gypsum for years, and to date to our knowledge we have not received any complaint that those products using synthetic gypsum may be associated with a house experiencing the problems reported with Chinese wallboard."

Craig Webb is Editor of ProSales.