The 2012 Drywall Safety Act was approved by the Senate shortly before the 112th Congress closed its docket for the year. The product of a nine-month debate and three revisions, some critics argue that the final version lacks the staying power to keep faulty drywall—whose high sulfur levels were attributed to respiratory ailments as well as malfunctioning safety alarm devices, pipes, and sprinkler systems—out of homes. Others, including the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) chief lobbyist Jim Tobin, contend that the series of revisions focused the Act’s regulatory power solely on drywall. “We wanted to make sure that the bill was targeted,” Tobin told ProSales. “In its initial drafting [the bill] seemed very broad and that it would allow the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to have the authority to regulate other building products.”
The new legislation sets the framework for discussion within the industry as to how much sulfur should be allowed in wallboard products, with ASTM International’s gypsum subcommittee developing a standard that the CPSC will be able to enforce as a consumer-product safety rule. Yet some think the processes established in the bill lack transparency. In a Jan. 8 article for ProPublica, Joaquin Sapien, who since May 2010 has been investigating the government’s handling of the faulty import for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and ProPublica, wrote that the Act “asks an industry association comprised of mostly drywall manufacturers and builders to develop voluntary limits on sulfur content in drywall for the government to enforce.”
Michael Gardner, president of non-profit trade group and ASTM gypsum committee member The Gypsum Association, whose members include most major North American gypsum manufacturers, does not think the situation is so nuanced. “ASTM is not a regulatory organization,” he said in an e-mail. “It is an independent standards organization. By its rules, it has to bring into play all interested parties: producers, users, and general interests.”
National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association president Michael O’Brien said in an email his organization was happy to see that the final version of the bill “clarifies that the authority granted to the Consumer Products Safety Commission is narrowly tailored and any voluntary standard for drywall adopted by the CPSC will be consensus-based and involve all stakeholders.”
How the Bill Played Out in Congress
March 19, 2012: Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) introduces House Resolution 4212, which seeks to label contaminated drywall as a “banned hazardous substance” and “imminent hazard” and hold those using or selling the product in violation of federal law. The bill was referred to the House Foreign Affairs, and Energy and Commerce committees.
September 19, 2012: The NAHB’s Tobin, “concerned with the absence of stakeholder input into H.R. 4212,” writes an open letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). In it he asks that the regulatory power given to the CPSC through the bill be lessened and replaced with input from industry experts. “Homebuilding is already a highly regulated industry,” he writes. “ … Allowing a federal agency to choose a voluntary standard it deems acceptable without opportunity for public comment sets a dangerous precedent that will create unintended consequences.”
September 19, 2012: The House amends and passes a new version of the bill, requiring domestic and imported drywall to be labeled with the name of its manufacturer and the month and year it was made. The bill is referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for discussion.
December 17, 2012: In an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Tobin asks that the Senate support a pending amendment by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), “clarifying that the authority granted to the Consumer Product Safety Commission is narrowly tailored and that the voluntary standard adopted by the Commission will be consensus-based.”
December 21, 2012: The Senate Committee reviews and approves Sen. Vitter’s addition to the legislation, which would allow ASTM International’s subcommittee on Specifications and Test Methods for Gypsum Products to develop a voluntary standard for the allowable level of sulfur permitted in drywall and that level treated as a consumer-product safety rule.
January 14, 2013: President Obama signs The 2012 Drywall Safety into law.