Artificial gypsum may pose a health risk, says manufacturer

By: Mugambi Kaburu

A leading gypsum building materials manufacturer has warned of health dangers on imported gypsum products made from industrial by-products.

While gypsum is a naturally occurring mineral that companies mine, more recently, people have begun to synthetically create different forms of artificial 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 said it was alarmed about indoor toxins caused by synthetic gypsum-based products. There is some concern that low levels of the heavy metals present in coal might appear in synthetic 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,” Erdemann Gypsum Managing Director John Yang said at the company’s factory. “The government should inspect imported gypsum products to ensure they do not have chemical contaminants.”

According to UNEP’s case sturdy, Identification and Analysis of Product/Chemicals Exchange Information within the Building Product Sector for 2011, there is some controversy about potential heavy metal content in synthetic gypsum, but no definitive research has been performed.


Chemical contaminants may be found in gypsum board where materials other than gypsum are added as fillers or flame retardants. Older drywall may contain asbestos and poses a risk during demolition or repair. In early 2008, some gypsum boards produced in China was found to emit sulphide gasses, according to the study.

“As with other building materials, the ability to assess chemical content of drywall (gypsum board) is largely dependent 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.”

Mr Yang also asked the government to seal gaps used by unscrupulous importers in dumping gypsum-based construction materials into the country to protect local companies.

He requested the government to protect local manufacturers of building materials who he said faced unfair competition from imported building materials which sometimes are under-taxed. In addition, Mr Yang requested the government to be more vigilant to prevent dumping of imported substandard building materials.

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

“Our company is the first of its kind in Kenya and we have created a new avenue for government revenue collection so we expect at least some protection from the government.”

Mr Yang said that although builders in other countries are adopting gypsum plastering for its convenience local constructors are stuck with time-consuming and messy affair traditional sand cement plastering.

He said that although the country has performed very well in having a vibrant construction industry, Kenyans have not keenly looked at the cost of building methods they use.