While the “fiscal cliff” negotiations continued in the wee hours, Congress did pass one piece of legislation that got very little national attention: legislation that would set standards for drywall. It might seem trivial, but not for the thousands of homeowners who have lost their homes or suffered significant drops in their home values because of dangerous Chinese drywall that was used after hurricane Katrina created shortages in the South.
The intent of the “Drywall Safety Act of 2012” is to set a standard for labeling drywall that would allow for easier tracing, identification and removal for tainted drywall. However, the legislation will do nothing to hold foreign manufacturers responsible when their products cause damage or injuries here in the U.S. Foreign corporations can effectively escape responsibility when they supply dangerous products. For example, Chinese-owned Taishan Gypsum continues to fight legal rulings that have ordered the company to pay millions of dollars for their dangerous drywall. The foreign company has argued it is not under the jurisdiction of the U.S. legal system, even though it sells and profits from drywall in this country.
Taishan sold more than 10 million pounds of dangerous drywall, linked to metal corrosion, sulfuric gases, headaches, asthma, and other health problems, but it is American homeowners who had the drywall that have paid the price with bankruptcies, declining home values, and numerous health problems.
The House of Representatives gave final approval Tuesday, January 1st after the Senate had approved the bill last week, being among the final pieces of legislation in this Congress. The next Congress needs to address the issue of foreign manufacturer jurisdiction so that foreign manufacturers can be held accountable in U.S. courts when they sell and profit from products in this country. Last Congress Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Representative Mike Turner (R-OH) proposed the “Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act” (S.1946/H.R.3646). If enacted, the bill would force foreign manufacturers to play by the same rules as American manufacturers by requiring foreign manufacturers to have an agent that would accept service of process for legal claims.
It’s an important step and we hope the President signs the “Drywall Safety Act of 2012,” but there is much more to be done.