Aug. 14, 2006 – Government officials have finally agreed to check for formaldehyde in trailers FEMA provided to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, but only after dozens of residents complained and environmentalists found high levels of the chemical in tests.
The announcement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency came nearly three months after Sierra Club tested 31 trailers in Mississippi and Louisiana and found that all but two of them had higher-than-acceptable levels of formaldehyde. Some hurricane survivors living in the trailers have complained of burning eyes, throat irritation, respiratory and sinus problems, persistent coughing, rashes and nose bleeds.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, formaldehyde â€“ which is a colorless gas â€“ "can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea and difficulty breathing." The EPA also says the gas may also cause cancer. Formaldehyde is emitted from some pressed-wood products, especially when they are new or exposed to humid climates like that of the Gulf Coast in the summer.
FEMA said it would work with the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct the tests. FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker told MSNBC that the tests were ordered "out of an abundance of caution" and that FEMA is still "highly confident and comfortable in the travel trailer program."
The EPA puts the safe formaldehyde level at 0.1 parts per million. Sierra club found levels three times that high in some homes. Becky Gillette, co-chair of the Mississippi Sierra Club, told the Times-Picayune that her groupâ€™s test was not on a statistically relevant sample and that she is glad FEMA is finally going to do more extensive testing.