Formaldehyde Problems Not Limited to FEMA TrailersApr 8, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailers, used to house victims of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, are notorious for emitting toxic formaldehyde fumes that have made residents sick. But the problems with toxic FEMA trailers have led to concerns about fumes emitted by other RV, travel trailers and campers people use for recreational purposes. Such trailers and campers after all, are made by the same manufacturers that provided the toxic FEMA trailers, and it turns out that many of those recreational trailers contain dangerously high levels of formaldehyde as well.
Formaldehyde is an invisible gas that is known to cause cancer. It can also cause other illnesses ranging from nose bleeds to chronic bronchitis. Commonly used in manufactured homes and recreational trailers, formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems and has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Recreational travel trailers were used by FEMA to house thousands of Gulf Coast hurricane victims in 2005. In 2006, FEMA workers along the Gulf Coast alerted the agency to possible problems with air quality in the trailers. FEMA was less than responsive, and did not get around to conducting comprehensive air quality tests on the trailers until late last year. Preliminary results of tests on 519 trailers conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) where released in February. The tests confirmed that the FEMA trailers pose a serious danger to residents still living in them. The CDC trailer tests revealed average formaldehyde levels of 77ppb (parts per billions), significantly higher than the 10 to 17 ppb concentration seen in newer homes. The CDC said at the time that it was urgent that those still living in toxic FEMA trailers be relocated as soon as possible.
Now, owners of recreational trailer are finding out that they are also being exposed to dangerously high levels of formaldehyde. A recent article in USAToday detailed on family who, after suffering respiratory and other problems following a vacation in a recreational trailer, had the air quality in the structure tested. The family discovered that airborne formaldehyde in the travel trailer was seven times the amount considered acceptable by scientists at the EPA.
That finding did not surprise experts, who told USAToday that ordinary camper trailers and motorized recreational vehicles can be unhealthy because no federal or state agency bars manufacturers from using materials in them that contain formaldehyde. Right now, mobile homes are the only vehicles in which formaldehyde is covered by federal law.
There is momentum building for more regulation of recreational trailers. According to USAToday, California will phase in a requirement that manufacturers cut by half the amount of formaldehyde in manufactured wood for all products sold, used or made for sale in California. Two congressional committees also are examining health issues related to emergency housing for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The investigations could lead to strict formaldehyde standards for future RVs, campers and travel trailers for emergency or normal consumer use.