Concerns Over Formaldehyde Emissions

June 13, 2007

Reported by: Britney Glaser

Concern over formaldehyde emissions in travel trailers issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is continuing to gain national attention - and politicians are not the only ones calling for immediate change.

One Vinton family is seeing their own health at risk each day-because of what they believe are toxic fumes inside their government-issued housing.

There is a triple-digit heat index today, but the Sonniers won't be relaxing near a cool air conditioner.  "I usually spend my time outside," says 7-year-old Mason, "because of that stuff that my grandma talks about."  9-year-old Evangeline adds, "It's that toxic stuff.  It can get you really sick."

That "toxic stuff" is the chemical formaldehyde-used in the floors and cabinets in FEMA trailers-and under hot, humid conditions, formaldehyde lets off toxic fumes.  Nancy has been living in her FEMA travel trailer for 18 months.  She and her husband gratefully accepted the temporary housing when Hurricane Rita wiped out their home.  But now, the trailer is causing a major headache...literally.  "The heat makes the formaldehyde very noticable," says Nancy, "and even though we've been here as long as we have, we still notice it."

FEMA officials are well aware of the risks formaldehyde poses to people, and there are even notices inside each trailer explaining the chemical's toxicity.  Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu is outraged over formaldehyde exposure to the residents living in the 86,000 trailers along the Gulf Coast.  "This takes the cake," says Landrieu, "now people living in the trailers have to worry if their children are breathing fumes that could cause cancer or some other disease."

Landrieu has called for immediate action to be taken by FEMA to address these chemical emissions, before more people experience symptons like the Sonniers.

Nancy says her family has experienced headaches, sinus problems, dizzy spells, joint problems, and insomnia.

KPLC contacted FEMA about this issue, and we were directed to the following statement: FEMA is committed to ensuring that any facilities provided meet high standards for protecting the occupant's health.  We were told residents living in FEMA trailers can have their units traded out if they believe that formaldehyde emissions are high.

For now, the Sonniers are taking their health into their own hands, and feeling the heat outside rather than the chemicals they say are looming inside their travel trailer.

If you believe that your health is at risk because of formaldehyde emissions in your FEMA unit, contact the agency at 1-800-621-FEMA or click here to learn more about the potential risks.