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High Levels of Formaldehyde Found in Some FEMA Trailers

May 16, 2007 |

It has been nearly one year since 9NEWS told you about potential health risks that are inside FEMA trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi. The environmental group, Sierra Club, last year conducted tests on FEMA trailers that showed dangerous levels of the cancer-causing chemical "formaldehyde." Now, a year later, a CBS News investigation shows people are filling doctors' offices with one thing in common, they all live in FEMA trailers. The investigation shows FEMA may have already known about those health risks.

CBS News also tested several trailers at Renaissance Village in Baker. There, they found at least two trailers with formaldehyde levels more than three-times the EPA limit. WAFB 9NEWS talked with some of the people living there. For Charlotte McGee, an evacuee from New Orleans, the FEMA trailer she lives in was only supposed to be a short-term home. After numerous road blocks and closed doors, she's called the cramped space her home for two years.

She says living in the conditions is hard enough. Now, knowing her health might be in danger on a daily basis is too much to bare. She says, "And we're just living here. If we die, we die, nobody cares." She shares that hopeless attitude with many of her neighbors. While watching the CBS Evening News and finding out parts of the trailers are built with formaldehyde, their attitudes and expressions quickly show anger and fear. "He said 70%?" CBS isn't alone when it comes to studying this potentially dangerous chemical. FEMA has done a study of its own.

Since last year, FEMA has replaced 70 trailers along the gulf because of formaldehyde exposure. It replaced 20 trailers in Louisiana and 50 in Mississippi. "We are afraid for the babies. We have about 26 newborn babies. But, if something like that is going on in our trailers, it would be deadly to their little lungs." When it gets hot and humid, formaldehyde lets off toxic fumes. That's not something these evacuees want to hear, especially in this south Louisiana climate. "I have been sick, I'm not going to say it's from the formaldehyde, but I have been having breathing problems."

As a solution to the dangerous chemical lurking around, FEMA suggests increasing ventilation by opening windows whenever possible. Also recommended is keeping the inside of your trailer cool and humidity low. It's also highly recommended that you do not smoke inside. Some say those tips simply aren't good enough. "How could you put us in this situation? Treat us without respect. Our lives are in danger. Would you put yourself in the same position?"

People living in Renaissance Village say probably not. 9NEWS also reported that many people who live in FEMA trailers may have signed a form that made them aware of the formaldehyde exposure. Whether they understood those dangers or not, none of them expected to be living in the trailers more than two years later.

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