That “brand new” smell in travel trailers given to hurricane victims by the federal government could signal the potential for health problems, the Sierra Club said.
According to The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., the Sierra Club reported in a telephone news conference Wednesday (May 17) that indoor air quality testing of 32 trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi showed 30 trailers had aerial formaldehyde levels above recommended levels for human health.
Various products used in the production of travel trailers contain formaldehyde, including glue, curtains, molded plastic and countertops.
According to a 1997 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report on formaldehyde, it can cause allergic reactions, coughing and wheezing at 0.1 parts per million (ppm).
Lower levels of formaldehyde do not cause problems for most people, the report says.
Mary DeVany, an industrial hygienist working with the Sierra Club, said 30 of the 32 trailers tested so far had levels above the 0.1 ppm threshold for formaldehyde. “If you can smell it, you’re being overexposed,” she said.
If people are experiencing symptoms or the “glue-like” smell associated with formaldehyde, DeVany said, there are a few things they can do to improve air quality.
DeVany suggested getting fresh air through the trailer by opening windows and using fans to increase circulation. Formaldehyde will dissipate over time, she said, but the gasses need somewhere to go.
The newspaper reported that Jim Fortenberry of Mississippi and his wife are living in a trailer supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) while they rebuild their home.
Air testing in the Fortenberrys’ trailer showed 0.34 ppm of formaldehyde compared with the recommended limit of 0.1 ppm.
Since getting the trailer in November, Fortenberry said, he’s had respiratory and sinus problems and his wife has had several nose bleeds.
“I do know that the more I stay in the trailer, the worse I feel,” he said during the news conference.
Chris Smith of the Sierra Club said some people also complain of nausea. “The Sierra Club believes they have a right to know what’s happening to them,” he said.
According to another report in the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, FEMA issued a written statement, suggesting that trailer occupants ventilate their temporary homes if necessary.
“FEMA and industry experts are monitoring the small number of cases where odors of formaldehyde have been reported, and we are confident that there is no ongoing risk,” said FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker.
“The odor may result from several sources, including materials used in the construction of certain trailers and vapors from items like new linens and burning cigarettes. By fully opening windows and using air conditioning or exhaust fans, residents can ensure proper air ventilation.”