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Cheap Wood In Katrina Trailers The Source of Formaldehyde

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, July 03, 2008 12:39 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Environmental Hazards, Formaldehyde, Lung Cancer, Respiratory Disease, Public Health

Formaldehyde has been tested and found at unacceptable levels in 42 percent of Katrina trailers. 



IMAGE SOURCE:  Wikimedia Commons/ trailers St. Bernard Parish/ author: Infrogmation 


Hurricane Katrina came ashore August 29, 2005 wiping out much of New Orleans and Louisiana.

Three years later, 15,000 displaced residents are still without homes and the “temporary” trailers, supplied by FEMA, have been found full of formaldehyde.

Federal scientists now report that formaldehyde probably resulted from the cheap woods used to manufacture trailer homes, permitted under government standards.

An analysis by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, finds Katrina trailers emit the toxic chemical at four to 11 times of that found in a typical U.S. home.  Residents of 42 percent of Katrina trailers tested were exposed to formaldehyde levels higher than what’s recommended for an occupational exposure of 15 minutes. 

The problem has been found in commercially built trailers as well as those built for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help house Katrina residents.

Formaldehyde was found in “exceptionally large emissions” in the particleboard, a processed wood product and plywood used in mobile homes for walls, cabinets and floors. Couple that with poor ventilation in trailers, and residents likely experienced even higher levels when the trailers were new.

"Manufacturers of travel trailers and the government agencies that influence their design should consider using construction materials that emit lower levels of formaldehyde as well as designs that increase outside air ventilation," said Michael McGeehin, director of the Division of Environmental Health Hazards at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which commissioned the study, as reported by the Washington Post. 

Formaldehyde is found in wood products where it is used as an adhesive. It can cause cancers of the nose as well as respiratory problems and serve to irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat.

Back in 1985, The Department of Housing and Urban Development identified particleboard and plywood as a large source of formaldehyde and set standards for mobile or manufactured homes.  Manufactured homes today use gypsum board in walls and ceilings.

Even today, there is no safety standard for formaldehyde in U.S. homes.  

Michael McGeehin, director of the Division of Environmental Health Hazards at CDC, said the findings only applied to trailers distributed by FEMA in the Gulf Coast Region, he tells Reuters, not in trailers sent to house victims of the Iowa floods.

4,000 Katrina trailer families were moved earlier this year after 11,000 health complaints were received.  An estimated 15,000 to 19,000 Katrina households remain without homes, down from a total of 143,000 at one time. 

This year, a California environmental group reviewed less expensive furniture, cribs and changing tables for babies rooms and found a disturbing amount of cheap wood made with formaldehyde in  six of the 21 baby room items of furniture tested. #

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