Toxic trailers


A report from a congressional committee released Monday says FEMA ignored government research on the long-term effects of formaldehyde in trailers used by victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The House Science and Technology subcommittee says FEMA manipulated findings to play down the dangers posed by the chemical.

FEMA responded to the report late Monday afternoon:

Secretary Chertoff and Administrator Paulison have each made it clear that the health and safety of residents is FEMA’s top priority. Every person who has called FEMA’s formaldehyde call centers with concerns has been offered an immediate move to a hotel or motel until alternative housing is located.

Whatever happened to those trailers? Many were sold for pennies on the dollar. Some FEMA trailers are now housing victims of last summer’s flooding in southeast Minnesota.

Though not nearly as widespread, some of the complaints from Katrina residents have been reported by Minnesotans, too.

A letter-writer to the St. Cloud Times says she experienced the problems firsthand.

Our daughter, her fiance, their 21/2 month old baby, her fiance’s brother and a dog all moved into a mobile home in Minnesota last month. The mobile came from FEMA and had been used after Hurricane Katrina. Within three nights, two of the three adults experienced chest pain so serious my daughter considered calling 911. Everyone, including the dog, became extraordinarily fatigued.

… A friend spent about four hours with them and developed chest pain so severe he wanted to cry. I developed breathing difficulty after spending less than 10 minutes inside the mobile home. …

The first FEMA trailer went to Bonnie and Roger Oldham, the family who rode their home for 1,000 yards during the flood in Stockton. After the first night, Roger Oldham reportedly had lung problems, said the Associate Press:

Roger Oldham’s lungs seemed to be irritated by the trailer’s “new” smell, but after airing it out the family planned to sleep in it. Still, Bonnie was concerned.

She said Roger has from heart problems and woke up Sunday morning unable to breathe. “I don’t care if I lose everything here, I don’t want to lose him,” she said.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • B2

    Fun Fact: that “new smell” in cars and other largely plastic objects, is partly offgassing, a result of just what it sounds like- chemical gases from the plastics that may or may not be harmful. When I was two years old the smell of my father’s new Buick made me sick. My parents couldn’t understand why I was carsick even on short trips. A couple of years later I told my mother the reason and she said, “That’s silly, that car didn’t smell”. Some persons, like two year olds, may be more sensitive to smells.

  • Jon Gordon

    My sister, who had been living in a FEMA trailer since Katrina levelled her town of Clermont Harbor, MS, just got moved into a much nicer “Katrina Cottage.” She say the FEMA trailer was disgusting – falling apart, moldy, uninsulated, with massive condensation quite literally running down the interior walls. The cottages are little houses – she’s thrilled with her 400 square-foot palace.

  • david