The (Not So) Great Walls of China

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The New York Times reports today that drywall imported from China and used in newly built homes in the U.S. emits fumes that can lead to headaches, nose bleeds and other nasty symptoms. Apparently, the fumes also corrode and/or turn "every piece of metal indoors" black. 

The Times goes on: "While tainted Chinese imports like toothpaste, pet food and baby formula have been quickly removed from store shelves, drywall is installed throughout homes and does not lend itself to a quick fix."

The Times was rather late to this story. Last spring the EPA tested a batch of Chinese made drywall and found it emitted not only sulfur, but also excessive amounts of strontium compounds. 

Chinese-made drywall is used in American homes because it is cheaper than American- made drywall. That is the one and only reason. But this incident leads to a question: What shortcuts are required to make a product as heavy as drywall so cheaply that it can compete in this country on price even after being shipped halfway around the globe?


Photo Credit: Flickr Users exfordy and Bone.P7

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Ellen Ruppel Shell is the co-director of the Graduate Program in Science Journalism at Boston University. She is the author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.

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