Toxic Formaldehyde in FEMA Trailers On November 12, 2007, media outlets reported that the toxic FEMA trailers were emitting far more poisonous formaldehyde than previously thought. According to air quality test conducted by the Sierra Club, as many as 95% of occupied FEMA trailers used by Gulf Coast hurricane victims contained 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.
The Sierra Club conducted independent tests on 600 FEMA trailers and mobile homes that were 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.
The finding that the FEMA mobile homes were just as dangerous as the toxic FEMA trailers was startling. The FEMA mobile homes, which are larger and are meant for long-term use, where considered safer than the FEMA trailers. While FEMA had stopped using the toxic trailers in the summer of 2007, use of mobile homes was still standard practice for the agency. In fact, just weeks prior to the Sierra Club revelations, FEMA had provided mobile homes to the victims of the 2007 California wildfires.
Families Still in Toxic FEMA Trailers
On May 16, 2006, the U.S. Government stated that approximately 86,000 families are still living in FEMA travel trailers across the Gulf and more and more of them are waking up with a host of health problems according to medical experts. After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA purchased close to 102,000 travel trailers at a cost of $2.6 billion. Some people waited months to get their trailers only to find out that the cheap building materials used were giving off toxic formaldehyde vapors. The lungs of young children can be extremely damaged from these toxic vapors. Additionally many people reported not being able to stay in their trailers for more than five minutes without experiencing burning eyes, coughing, headaches, nausea or skin rashes, sinus infections, and nosebleeds.
Testing by the Sierra Club in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama illustrated that 83% of trailers tested had formaldehyde levels above the EPA limit of 0.10 parts per million. "FEMA trailers should come with a warning sign”; said Leslie March, chair of the Sierra Club’s Gulf Coast Environmental Restoration Taskforce. "Hurricane victims do not deserve to be victimized by their own government." "We know one family that moved into a storage shed because their daughter threw up every time she spent time in the FEMA trailer," said Becky Gillette, co-chair of the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club. "Another man sleeping in his driveway told me, ‘My FEMA trailer is killing me,’" she added.
One Bay City, Mississippi mother who has been living in a FEMA trailer told CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian that her son “would constantly cough and you could hear it in his chest.” Dr. Scott Needle, a pediatrician in Bay St. Louis, was the first to notice that the child was not alone. Dozens of his patients were suffering from the same symptoms that kept coming back. They had one peculiar connection. "Every one of them said, you know, we are living in a FEMA trailer. And not only that, but, you know, little Johnny wasn’t having these problems before we moved into that trailer," Needle said.
Terry Sloan was a floor supervisor at a Gulf Stream Coach factory in Etna Green, Ind. Gulf Stream Coach built more than 50,000 stripped-down travel trailers. Sloane says his crew worked at a breakneck pace for months, which, he says, forced the company to use cheaper wood products. "Quality suffered dramatically because of the drive and pressure to put these trailers out," Sloan said.
To date FEMA continues to downplay the problem that has placed tens of thousands of people at risk for increased respiratory infections, irritated eyes and mucus membranes, as well as an increased risk for cancer. FEMA claims that only a few people have complained about the formaldehyde problem. No steps have been taken to protect people’s health by providing air purifiers or other remedies. CBS News has discovered an internal FEMA document that cites cancer as a potential job hazard for those just inspecting the trailers.