The U.S. is hoping China will help persuade its manufacturers of tainted drywall to cooperate in helping homeowners fix their homes, the chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission said Tuesday.
Inez Tenenbaum, in Shanghai for meetings with her Chinese and European counterparts, said she was encouraged by the response of product safety officials in China but needs help from the country's trade ministry in convincing makers of the drywall to meet with the U.S. side to work on the issue.
So far only one company, German-Chinese venture Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., has agreed to pay for repairs to some 300 homes needed because of the drywall, which is believed to be tainted with sulfuric compounds that corrode metal.
The drywall was imported into the United States during a housing boom and for the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is blamed for damaging appliances and causing health problems.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission has recommended that affected homes be gutted.
Tenenbaum described Knauf's decision as a "major breakthrough."
"What we're asking and we've been asking for months is for the Chinese government to help us get the other manufacturers to the table," she said.
The idea is to share research results on the problem and seek solutions for fixing the homes.
"Up to today we've not been able to get any Chinese manufacturers to cooperate and we're asking the government to help coordinate that meeting," she said.
Tenenbaum said she believes one state-owned company in particular was holding up the process. She did not name the company.
Overall, Tenenbaum and the other product safety officials were upbeat about progress on quality problems.
The three sides said they plan to draw up a "roadmap" for improving product safety and finding ways to better align standards, many of which are voluntary industry guidelines.
The meeting highlighted that "consumer products will be safe only when everyone in the design, manufacturing and distribution chain does their job," Tenenbaum said. "More and more we are beginning to understand the wisdom in the saying: Safety starts at the source."
Despite progress in China following a spate of scandals over unsafe foods, drugs, toys and other products, reports of troubles with tainted or otherwise unsafe products continue to surface.
Working to combat such problems requires all involved to share information, said EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli.
"We must join forces so that we can ensure we control the flow of goods from the factory to the home," he said.