FEMA trailers raise formaldehyde fears

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Feb 25, 2008
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FEMA trailers raise formaldehyde fears

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Feb 25, 2008
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KAI RYSSDAL: The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s still dealing with its own post-Katrina emergency. FEMA has announced it’s going to do some more testing on those trailers that hurricane evacuees have been living in. There are thousands of them all along the Gulf Coast. Tests have shown dangerous levels of the possible carcinogen formaldehyde in them.

Nancy Marshall Genzer reports, it’s not just FEMA campers and trailers that have problems.


NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: FEMA is hoping to move everybody out of the trailers by June 1. In the meantime, it announced that people can ask for formaldehyde tests. More than 300 people have requested tests so far. FEMA spokesman James McIntyre says the agency will move people into hotels or apartments for six months if they want to leave their trailers, but McIntyre stresses that FEMA had no way of knowing that formaldehyde levels in the trailers would make people sick.

JAMES MCINTYRE: We bought units from the industry that they built according to the standards that they build them all, so even if you bought one off of a commercial lot, it would still be built with materials that use formaldehyde.

But travel trailers weren’t meant to be lived in. It’s not clear that formaldehyde would cause health problems after a short camping trip, but the Katrina evacuees who’ve been living in the trailers tell horror stories. Attorney David Krangle is representing residents who’ve filed a lawsuit.

DAVID KRANGLE: We have people who’ve aggravated an existing asthma condition, developing asthma, you know these terrible respiratory problems, skin rashes.

Sierra Club spokesman, Oliver Burnstein says, what’s really needed is a new federal standard for indoor air quality.

OLIVER BURNSTEIN: We don’t want to use people as human test kits. We would much rather the government ensure that all emergency housing is safe.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association represents trailer manufacturers. The organization didn’t respond to Marketplace’s interview request, but a spokesman told MSNBC that manufacturers use “low-emitting materials” to keep formaldehyde at a safe level.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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