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Occupants Will Be Moved From Toxic Trailers

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, February 14, 2008 11:51 AM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Toxic Substances, Property Owners Liability

Occupants will be moved out of FEMA trailers after high levels of formaldehyde have been confirmed.

Image: Fema trailer, New Orleans


First the homes lost from the 2005 hurricanes of Katrina and Rita. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided about 120,000 trailers to Gulf Coast victims who are still waiting to get their lives back together.

In 2006, some occupants began reporting headaches and nosebleeds.

Now health officials confirm that the trailers are toxic with high levels of formaldehyde fumes. The Bush administration confirmed yesterday they will be moved from 38,000 Gulf Coast government trailers.  

Consultations will begin in New Orleans today with roughly 100,000 residents of the trailers.   

Fumes were tested from 519 trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. In some trailers exposure was nearly 40 times normal exposure.

The CDC is recommending that FEMA move people out immediately with priority given to children in families the elderly or anyone with respiratory problems.

Mike McGeehin, director of a CDC division that focuses on environmental hazards said "We do not want people exposed to this for very much longer."

The CDC confirmation follows nearly two years of deliberations over the toxic trailers. Two years ago FEMA received the first reports of health problems.  Tests showed formaldehyde at about 75 times any workplace standard.

There exists no safety standards for home formaldehyde exposure, but the levels are high enough to cause concern about burning eyes and breathing problems.  

In an interview with the Washington Post, CDC Director Julie Gerberding said the new findings amount to a wake-up call.  

"If levels are high today, that means people in housing vulnerable to formaldehyde could be exposed to health effects now. We're also concerned because they've been in there 18 months, and even a low level could result in large cumulative exposure," Gerberding said. "We know less about effects of chronic exposure. It's very important we reduce it as much and as quickly as we can, and the way to do that is to get people out of these homes."

Formaldehyde was the only toxin tested for. It is used in producing plywood, in resins and carpeting.  It is a colorless gas but has a pungent smell. 

The Environmental Protection Agency calls it a “probably carcinogen’ the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a “carcinogen”.

Last year FEMA faced the issue of toxic trailers. About 1,000 families moved out but FEMA said the trailers conform to the industry standards.

In May, FEMA put out a news release that formaldehyde emissions can be reduced through adequate ventilation. In response to criticism,  FEMA says it did not hide, ignore or manipulate research related to formaldehyde with temporary housing units. 

It was lawyers for the families who pushed to have the trailers tested for hazardous fumes.  #


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