The Executive Director of the Kenya Consumers’ Organisation, Mr Francis Orago, has asked the government to look into claims that artificial gypsum building materials could be harmful to people, adding that similar concerns had been raised in other countries.
This comes after Erdemann Gypsum, which makes building materials from natural gypsum, recently said it was worried about indoor toxins caused by artificial gypsum-based products.
The company said it was concerned that low levels of the heavy metals present in coal might appear in artificial gypsum.
Erdemann Gypsum managing director John Yang said: “We should use natural gypsum building materials from natural gypsum which is safe for our health.” He asked the government to inspect all imported gypsum products to ensure they do not have chemical contaminants.
Mr Orago said the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) should protect the country from health dangers of the synthetic gypsum building products.
“Let the two agencies keenly study the issue and show the way forward,” he said.
He added that if the government does not respond immediately, the Kenya Consumers Organisation will have to advise consumers accordingly.
Although gypsum is a naturally occurring mineral that is mined, companies have recently begun to artificially create different types of gypsum products.
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.
In the past few months, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has received more than 550 reports from people in 19 states and the District of Columbia involving odours, health symptoms and corrosion problems they blame on imported artificial gypsum boards.
In January 2013, the US passed a new law to implement standards to prevent future problems with gypsum boards.
“We remember how asbestos rose from being a much-loved material in wiring and construction to a human health hazard,” Mr Orago recalled.
In the Nineteenth century, asbestos was very much a manufacturers’ and builders’ favourite because of its physical properties and was used in electrical insulation for hotplate wiring and in building insulation.
However, when its toxic effects came to light, many countries stopped using it as use a mainstream construction and fireproofing material. Kenya banned the use of asbestos in 2006.
Article originally published in the DAILY NATION