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FEMA Trailer Tests Detect More Formaldehyde Than First Thought, While FEMA Mobile Homes Found Toxic As Well

Nov 12, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP Travel trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as temporary homes for Hurricane Katrina victims are emitting far more toxic formaldehyde than previously thought.  Recently revealed air quality test results indicate that as many as 95% of occupied FEMA trailers used by Gulf Coast hurricane victims contain twice the level of formaldehyde fumes considered safe by the Centers for Disease Control.   What’s more, the same air quality testing also found unsafe levels of formaldehyde in FEMA mobile homes, which were once thought to be a safe alternative to the toxic FEMA trailers.

According to a report posted on, the Sierra Club conducted independent tests on 600 FEMA trailers and mobile homes being used along the Gulf Coast.  In some extreme cases, formaldehyde levels in the structures were 70 times higher than what is considered safe.  Of the FEMA trailers and mobile homes tested by the Sierra Club, only 23 had formaldehyde levels that “were at less than twice the acceptable long-term exposure limit” of 0.008 ppm, and only 9 where below that standard. The majority of the FEMA trailers had levels of .56 ppm, while the formaldehyde detected in mobile homes was also above the threshold, in some cases as high as 0.1 ppm.

Formaldehyde is an invisible gas that is known to cause cancer.  It can also cause other illnesses ranging from nose bleeds to chronic bronchitis.  The chemical was used as glue in the FEMA trailers and mobile homes.   At least two deaths of FEMA trailer residents have been linked to formaldehyde exposure.

The mobile homes, which are larger and are meant for long-term use, where considered safer than the FEMA trailers.  In fact, FEMA recently decided to stop using the toxic trailers and is in the process of relocating some trailer occupants over formaldehyde concerns.  But FEMA is still using the mobile homes, and had provided some to victims of the California wildfires.  The FEMA mobile homes are subject to standards set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and a Sierra Club spokesperson told MSNBC that the results of the air quality tests indicate that mobile home manufacturers did not adhere to those standards as they rushed to meet the demand for temporary housing brought on by Hurricane Katrina.

For its part, FEMA has delayed air quality tests on the toxic trailers that were supposed to have begun this month.  What’s worse, the agency has told employees to stay out of stored trailers because the air is too dangerous, even as thousands of people on the Gulf Coast remain in the toxic FEMA trailers.  Of course, FEMA has never seemed overly concerned about the health of those living in its toxic trailers. E-mails uncovered earlier this year during a congressional investigation into the trailers showed that FEMA lawyers told the agency to drag its feet on air quality testing.  One FEMA lawyer advised the agency “do not initiate any testing until we give the OK. . . Once you get the results and should they indicate a problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them”.   FEMA’s Office of General Council also advised the agency not to test the trailers because doing so “would imply FEMA’s ownership of the issue”.  

Hundreds of toxic FEMA trailer residents have already filed lawsuits against trailer manufacturers for the injuries they sustained due to formaldehyde exposure.   The revelation that residents of FEMA mobile homes could also be facing the same health risks will do little to restore confidence in an agency that even now, continues to abandon the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

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