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Formaldehyde in FEMA travel trailers

Formaldehyde in FEMA travel trailers making people sick

Some travel trailers issued to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency are emitting potentially dangerous levels of formaldehyde, an industrial chemical used in their manufacture which some residents say is making them sick.

In Mississippi alone, FEMA has received 46 complaints from people who say they have been affected by symptoms of formaldehyde exposure, including eye, nose, and throat irritation, nausea and breathing difficulties. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, formaldehyde has been found to cause cancer in rats and may cause cancer in humans.

The Sierra Club conducted tests of 31 FEMA travel trailers and found that 29 of them had unsafe levels of formaldehyde, according to a report (PDF) published on the group’s Web site.

What do you suppose FEMA is doing about it? First off, they really don’t think it’s a problem in the first place.

“It’s the ‘new car smell,’” said Charles Powell, who has been with Beaumont’s [Texas] FEMA office since October, adding he isn’t aware of any complaints about the air quality in their travel trailers. — Beaumont Enterprise

So they’re going to do more testing. FEMA plans to test indoor and outdoor levels of formaldehyde at several unused travel trailers.

FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said agency director R. David Paulison wanted to do what was in the best interest of hurricane victims.

“They came to the decision … of victims first,” Walker said. “We want to make sure our residents feel comfortable.”

Walker said the agency couldn’t verify the Sierra Club findings “to make sure their testing was done adequately or correctly.” He said the Environmental Protection Agency will handle the sampling for FEMA. — Associated Press

In some cases, FEMA is replacing travel trailers with ones that aren’t giving off noticeable levels of formaldehyde.

For the next several months, FEMA recommends that people in travel trailers air out the trailer frequently, use air conditioning and dehumidifiers, and not smoke in the trailers.

Maybe this is why hundreds of trailers remain empty and the press isn’t allowed to talk to people who live in them.

By Michael Hampton


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