Wednesday, August 1, 2007

FEMA Trailers

I don't know how much people outside of the gulf coast have heard about this, but it appears that some FEMA issued trailers in the state of Mississippi have been producing formaldehyde. The culprit appears to be the particle board and plywood parts of the trailers created to provide emergency housing for victims of Katrina and Rita. It seems that the high heat and humidity of the gulf coast region is causing the glues and resins used to create particle board to leak formaldehyde into the air. In higher levels of exposure, formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems such as asthma and nosebleeds.

As of today, about 200 complaints have been filed with FEMA relating to respiratory illnesses and emergency trailers. When complaints began to surface at FEMA, officials tested one trailer to see the level of formaldehyde. The single trailer which was inspected had a level of 1.2 parts per million, and FEMA decided that their was no risk to inhabitants. The only problem with this assessment is that "according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workers should use respirators if they have to spend most of their working day in formaldehyde levels above 0.016 parts per million", about seventy five times less than the amount found in the one FEMA trailer tested. FEMA officials told people with complaints to air out the formaldehyde affected area, common advice given by agencies such as the EPA and CDC.

Now, let me tell you something. I have lived in New Orleans for nearly two months now, coincidentally moving in during the hot summer months. I sweat indoors, often. Riding in the non-air conditioned truck can be brutal (not to mention those vinyl seats). I have taken to tying a bandanna over my forehead so sweat does not leak into my eyes whenever I have to do anything outside (and sometimes inside). Walking two short blocks leaves me sticky and grumpy. So, as reasonable as this advice may seem, I cannot imagine people living in small metal boxes being told to simply "air out the trailer" by opening a window. Basically what this amounts to is living without air conditioning in a space that, I imagine, gets really hot during the day, and retains heat at night. Also, on this page, you can take a tour of a FEMA trailer with me. with me. I count two small windows, with a possible third in the "master bedroom". Really, how much ventilation can be provided from those?

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