For practically a year now, the ubiquitous FEMA trailer has actually sheltered 10s of countless Gulf coastline residents left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. But there is growing issue that even as it staved off the elements, it to be exposing its occupants to a toxic gas that can pose both immediate and long-term health and wellness risks.

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A Sheriff room deputy patrols a FEMA trailer park in St. Boy name Parish, La. Gerald Herbert / AP file
BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — For virtually a year now, the ubiquitous FEMA trailer has sheltered 10s of thousands of Gulf shore residents left homeless through Hurricane Katrina. Yet there is growing concern that even as the staved off the elements, it to be exposing its occupants to a toxic gas that can pose both immediate and long-term health and wellness risks.

The gas is formaldehyde, the airborne form of a chemical provided in a wide selection of products, including composite wood and also plywood panels in the hundreds of travel trailers that the commonwealth Emergency Management company purchased after ~ Katrina to residence hurricane victims. It also is taken into consideration a human carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, through the International company for research on Cancer and also a probable human being carcinogen by the U.S. Eco-friendly Protection Agency.


Air top quality tests that 44 FEMA trailers conducted by the Sierra Club since April have uncovered formaldehyde concentrations as high together 0.34 parts per million – a level nearly equal to what a professional embalmer would certainly be exposed to on the job, according to one study of the chemical’s rectal effects.

And all yet four the the trailers have tested greater than the 0.1 components per million that the EPA considers to it is in an “elevated level” qualified of causing watery eyes, burning in the eyes and throat, nausea, and also respiratory distress in some people.

Becky Gillette, co-chair the the Mississippi chapter of the ecological group, claimed that representatives also have heard from many trailer occupants who to speak they began experiencing health troubles ranging native headaches and runny noses come chronic respiratory tract problems and also nosebleeds as soon as they relocated in.

As a result of that is testing and also such accounts, the Sierra club is pushing because that a congressional examination of the potential health hazards posed by the trailers.


“It’s merely wrong that the federal government would spend billions the dollars come poison human being in these toxicity tin cans,” Gillette said.

Pediatrician saw inexplicable illnessesDr. Scott Needle, a doctor in just St. Louis, said he noticed part unusual and also persistent health problems amongst his patients life in the trailers well prior to the possible link come formaldehyde exposure surfaced.

“I was seeing kids coming in v respiratory complaints – colds and sinus infections – and they were getting them over and also over again,” the said. “…Almost invariably, these family members were continuing to be in the FEMA trailers.”

A class-action lawsuit also has to be filed in Louisiana, specify name the commonwealth government and trailer manufacturers together defendants and also alleging that “the temporary real estate is unsafe and also presents a clear and present danger to the health and also well-being the plaintiffs and their families.”


Despite the Sierra society tests – and air quality experimentation by the work Safety and Health administration in November the detected formaldehyde levels at FEMA trailer holding stations top top the Gulf shore as high as 5.0 components per million, or 50 time the EPA’s “elevated” level – FEMA states the trailers space safe and also there is no require for it to command its very own air-quality testing.

“FEMA stands confident in using take trip trailers for emergency sheltering,” said firm spokesman Aaron Walker. “… To placed it in perspective, we have almost 115,000 trailers out ideal now, and FEMA has received just over 20 complaints total.”

Better ventilation recommended

Walker stated those experiencing any adverse reaction to the trailer setting can most likely resolve the issue by raising ventilation.


“We encourage households living in the trailers, if lock worried, to take actions to air out their trailers,” the said. “… If a family members is uncomfortable with their trailer, castle welcome to speak to our trailer hot line (and) we can come out and test your trailer and also have a look in ~ it.”

Trailer manufacturers contacted through MSNBC.com decreased to comment on the issue due to the fact that of the pending litigation and also directed inquiries come the Recreational car Industry Association. RVIA spokesman Kevin Broom echoed walker in saying the the gas in the trailers poses no health and wellness threat.

“The industry uses low-emitting materials, so formaldehyde has not to be an issue for 15 or twenty years at least,” that said.

Broom recognized that the high heat and humidity in the Gulf coast could boost the price of formaldehyde “outgassing” native wood products trailers, but added that ventilation should quickly take care of any type of problem.


“You can gain it come dissipate an extremely easily if you just ventilate it,” that said. “People may simply need come be shown how to open up the windows.”

Mary DeVany, an industrial hygienist native Vancouver, Wash., who has studied the formaldehyde issue, agrees the the high heat and also humidity in the hurricane-ravaged region exacerbate the problem. But she believes that the higher-than-usual readings in the FEMA trailers can be the an outcome of the sirloin to produce the trailers in the wake of Katrina.

“Typically v these plywood and also particleboard products … before assembly they’re placed in ovens that heat them to 130 degrees,” she said. “This sets and bakes turn off the formaldehyde in the glues and also resins. ... I’m not certain that taken place in this case since the trailers were made for this reason fast.” The RVIA’s Broom problems that notion, saying such “baking” is carry out by the manufacturer to alleviate the formaldehyde leakage.

“That’s no something the RV market would do,” he claimed of the process. “They would be buying certified low- emission materials.”


A patchwork that standardsAny effort to identify whether the formaldehyde levels current in the trailers posture a wellness threat is exacerbated by the patchwork of criter in location to control exposure come the chemical – nobody of which use to travel trailers or recreational vehicles.

The room of Housing and also Urban breakthrough limits the usage of formaldehyde-emitting assets in manufactured houses -- setting a standard of 0.2 parts per million for plywood and 0.3 parts per million because that particleboard materials. However the firm does not regulate travel trailers or engine homes, probably since it was never ever anticipated that people would spend lengthy periods the time life in them, stated the Sierra Club’s Gillette.


The lack of one exposure standard mirrors a larger issue, claimed Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer American Lung Association.

“The real trouble is we haven’t done because that indoor pollution what we’ve done 4 outdoor contamination and set national standards,” the said. “There room no at home air quality air standards and also I yes, really think Congress have to empower the EPA and NIOSH (the nationwide Institute for job-related Safety and also Health) to collection standards.”


Nor is there covenant on the permanent health threats from exposure to formaldehyde.

The International company for research study on Cancer, component of the civilization Health Organization, classified it as “carcinogenic to humans” in June 2004 after reviewing 40 human being studies, including a nationwide Cancer Institute study linking exposure to an elevated threat of rarely nasopharyngeal cancer.

California cracking downThe California Air sources Board has figured out formaldehyde as a “toxic wait contaminant” after ~ state professionals concluded that, based upon current research, there is “no safe exposure threshold … come preclude cancer.” The firm is currently occurring regulations aimed at high solution reducing the quantity of formaldehyde commodities used in the state by 2010.

But no U.S. Health and wellness or ecological agencies have complied with the IARC in proclaiming the chemistry to it is in a human being carcinogen, saying more research is necessary. And the industry groups have sponsored study that castle say shows the potential risk connected with exposure has been overblown.


“All the the accessible and still-emerging human wellness research data is demonstrating that if formaldehyde exposure is kept below levels that create chronic irritation and overt target tissue damage, the threat of cancer is essentially zero,” according to the Formaldehyde Council, an market group.

The dispute is much from scholastic for Katrina survivors who room nearing your one-year anniversary living in the trailers.

DeVany, the commercial hygienist, stated that children and the yonsei are most at risk, the former due to the fact that they have greater respiration rates than adults and the latter since they are likely to it is in exposed come the fumes much more than those that work and also only return to their trailers at night.

“A year native now, the formaldehyde will certainly be gone, yet the permanent and also lasting results from these exposures will certainly not,” she said.


Fumes forced pair to fleeSounding a comparable warning, though one born from personal experience, are Paul and Melody Stewart of only St. Louis, who say formaldehyde required them out of your FEMA trailer and also into your truck.

The pair said that also though they had actually a girlfriend air out the Cavalier trailer and run the heater prior to they arrived, the smell once they to walk in was overpowering. And Melody stated she had a nosebleed the first night they remained in it.

“(The smell) was really bad, yet we went and also ahead and also went come bed,” she said. “Within hours, ns woke approximately the odor – it to be that strong – and also I was gasping because that fresh air. I ran come the window.”

The pair continued come ventilate the trailer and also tried remove composite lumber panels from beneath the bed and table bench and also replacing them with solid wood, however nothing seemed to help.


Finally, when their pet cockatiel took ill, they made decision they had to perform something.

“We obtained up one morning and also the cockatiel to be lethargic, wouldn’t move, was shedding its balance,” claimed Paul, a police officer in neighboring Waveland. “… (Later), the vet told us unequivocally, ‘Look, you either acquire the bird the end of that setting or he’s going to die.’”

The Stewarts complained to FEMA and also received two replacement trailers – the first of which additionally smelled that formaldehyde and a second that had actually swathes the mold and also a stove optimal that looked like it had been “used in ~ a Waffle House,” Paul said.

Fed up, they referred to as FEMA and told the company to come take the trailer away, then spent five days life in their truck prior to using your last $50,000 in savings come buy a “fifth-wheel” trailer devoid of any kind of formaldehyde odor.

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“We take it what sources we had actually left, and also what we really should have used to rebuild our house, and went out and bought our own camper,” Paul said.

Since then, the Stewarts have granted numerous media interviews, intent on dispersing word that the feasible hazards.

“We’re here due to the fact that there space so many people at threat (and) castle in the shadows,” Melody said. “You’ve acquired Christians, hard-working people that have lost your jobs and also retired people who have actually paid your dues come society, and we’re putting them at risk by letting them continue to be in this campers.”