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There is no shortage of op-eds, scholarly articles, and angry jeremiads bemoaning America’s consumerist culture. At the moment it appears that Americans make their purchasing decisions based on three prime factors. These are, in no particular order, convenience, price, and quality. Actually, come to think of it, that is the proper order, except that English grammar lacks a convenient method to indicate just how large a gap exists between price and quality. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate just how uninterested the American people are in quality is to examine production results from the world’s lowest cost provider, China.

Over the last several decades, China has gradually become the world’s manufacturing power house, due mainly to its exceedingly low labor costs. Today, it is nearly impossible to purchase a garment, toy, or piece of electronic equipment made anywhere else. It has also become nearly impossible to turn around without hearing reports of yet another poisoned food product from China. Let’s just take a quick stroll through what China hath wrought, and let’s see what we find.

In 2007 alone, the FDA discovered, in the US, over 1000 shipments of poisoned: apples, mushrooms, dietary supplements, scallops, and sardines. Also, who can forget the poisoned pet food shipments, poisonous toothpaste, or the tiny matter of grossly unsafe shipments of blood-thinner heparin. Though, to be fair, the Chinese government has attempted to resolve these problems, mostly by executing the head of China’s Food and Drug Administration.

So, why am I reciting this sad litany of woes? I mean, it’s not as though Chinese products are sneaking around at night, poisoning your family and destroying the fabric of your home. Or are they? As it happens, yes.

It now appears that between 2004 and 2008, in the neighborhood of 540 million pounds of defective Chinese drywall entered the United States. That’s enough material to construct 100,000 homes, according to the Associated press. The material appears to give off foul sulfur-based gases which may be harmful to humans and corrosive to plumbing, wiring, and other metal home furnishings. These effects have appeared most rapidly in the Southeast, where high temperatures and humidity exacerbate the problem. However, homes in cooler, drier climes may not be immune to toxic effects, they may simply take years to appear.

Since this problem was discovered, several class action law suits have been filed, like this one against the importers of the Chinese drywall, and this one against homebuilder Lennar. At least one involved company, WCI Communities Inc., has agreed, as part of a bankruptcy restructuring, to establish a multi-million dollar trust fund to cover drywall claims. As with all class actions, if you are a potential member of the class you need not consent in advance to be included. Generally, these kinds of suits involve a public notification, and members of a class must opt out if they wish. If you fail to opt out of a class you will generally be bound by the terms of any settlement agreement. Should your health be affected later on, you will have lost the ability to pursue your own legal action.

Owners of homes constructed after 2003, should consult a qualified attorney to determine whether they are part of a class, and whether joining a particular suit is in their best interests. This is doubly true for those homeowners who have already begun to detect the odors, corrosion, and other side effects of the tainted drywall.

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