Formaldehyde Risks in Trailers Confirmed
Even though levels of formaldehyde vary widely among FEMA trailers and some trailer inhabitants are less affected by the colorless gas than others, all residents are encouraged to move into "safer housing as soon as possible," preferably before the summer, said Julie Gerberding, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency recently completed a study that found that "in many trailers, mobile homes and park models tested, formaldehyde levels were elevated relative to typical levels of U.S. indoor exposure,” according to The Times-Picayune, New Orleans.
Ventilation, the age of the trailer and the temperature affect the levels of formaldehyde, she said.
"When the temperature is warmer, the levels are higher," Gerberding said.
A summary of the study's conclusions acquired by The Times-Picayune does not elaborate on the precise health risks resulting from temporary or prolonged exposure to formaldehyde, but Gerberding noted that the "really old, the really young and those suffering from asthma" are more susceptible to its effects.
The pungent gas is released by building materials and household items – including paint, draperies and pressed wood products – according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Acute exposure" may result in irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and mucous membranes, said Mike McGeehin, a division director for the National Center for Environmental Health. "Nasal cancer in humans also has been linked to long-term exposure to formaldehyde."
There can be a skin rash, he said, but that occurs less often than the respiratory problems, he said.
In New Orleans on Wednesday (Feb. 13), representatives of the CDC and FEMA discussed the preliminary test results from trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. At the request of FEMA, the CDC tested 520 occupied manufactured housing units from Dec. 21 through Jan. 23.
Gerberding said she does not perceive the trailer-formaldehyde issue as a "public health emergency."
The study also found:
The bottom line is that this "is not the ideal housing for people long-term," Gerberding said.
The CDC recommends public health officials "support the need to move quickly to relocate travel trailer residents before the weather in the region warms up, placing highest priority on those who are symptomatic and/or especially vulnerable.
The CDC also recommends an appropriate follow-up that will require multiagency collaboration – including the CDC, FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development – "to achieve safe, healthy housing for people displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who continue to live in travel trailers and mobile homes."