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Alarm raised over risky artificial gypsum products

REAL ESTATE
By Correspondent | December 3rd 2015

A leading gypsum manufacturer has raised the alarm over health risks caused by artificial gypsum building materials made from industrial waste.

Although gypsum is a naturally occurring mineral that is mined, companies have recently begun to artificially create different types of synthetic gypsum products. Artificial or synthetic gypsum products are made from sulphur dioxide gases from coal-fired power plants, or from the production of phosphate fertilisers, or from the production of hydrofluoric acid.

Erdemann Gypsum Limited employees demonstrate a gypsum plastered wall at the company’s Nairobi showroom. The firm has warned against the use of artificial gypsum products. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

Erdemann Gypsum says it is worried about indoor toxins caused by synthetic gypsum-based products. It is concerned that low levels of the heavy metals present in coal might appear in artificial gypsum.

The company mines gypsum in Kitui and makes gypsum boards, plasters, cornices, corners and medallions at its Sh500-million factory in the county.

“We should use natural gypsum building materials from natural gypsum, which is safe for our health,” said Erdemann Gypsum MD John Yang. He asked the government to inspect all imported gypsum products to ensure they do not have chemical contaminants.

Heavy metal

According to a United Nations Environment Programme’s case study, there is some controversy about potential heavy metal content in synthetic gypsum, but no definitive research has been conducted. According to Identification and Analysis of Product/Chemicals Exchange Information within the Building Product Sector for 2011 report, chemical contaminants may be found in gypsum board where materials other than gypsum are added as fillers or flame retardants.

The Unep report says older drywall may contain asbestos and poses a risk during demolition or repair. In early 2008, some gypsum boards produced in China were found to emit sulphide gasses, says the study.

“As with other building materials, the ability to assess chemical content of drywall (gypsum board) largely depends on transparency in sourcing,” says the report. “Some third-party certifications address synthetic gypsum content in gypsum board where it is considered as post-industrial recycled content.”

Yang also asked the government to seal loopholes used by unscrupulous importers in dumping gypsum-based construction materials into the country to protect local companies. He asked the government to protect local manufacturers of building materials who he said faced unfair competition from imported building materials which sometimes are under-taxed.

“Recognition of players in the building materials industry by the government will go along way in helping the investors feel secure in doing their business in the country,” he said.

He said that although the country has a vibrant construction industry, Kenyans have not keenly considered the cost of building methods they use. “Time has come for Kenyans to seriously think about the methods they are using to put up their buildings,” Yang said. “They should always be on the lookout for innovations that save them time and money.”

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