Don't go in! Oh, you live here? Fine.

It's OK for storm victims to live in them, but don't let your employees enter them: FEMA. Who else?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is barring employees from entering thousands of stored travel trailers over concerns about hazardous fumes, while more than 48,000 other trailers continue to be used by hurricane victims in Louisiana and Mississippi.

FEMA is advising employees not to enter any of the roughly 70,000 trailers in storage areas across the country, but the directive does not apply to other trailers still in use, agency spokeswoman Mary Margaret Walker said Thursday. (AP; hat tip, Man of Misery)

How doe we know about this? CBS news got hold of emails between EMA employees, in which the question was posed to the director of the Baton Rouges field office if a trailer could be entered to close a vent. The answer came back within minutes:

. . . agency officials "had directed (although I never saw it in writing) that no one enter any of the (trailers) that had been sitting around in the sun. The idea was that the sun may have baked out high levels of formaldehyde. We will find out what the policy is."

Three days later, David Chawaga, a senior industrial hygienist for FEMA, sent an e-mail advising employees not to enter stored travel trailers "until further notice," based on results from workplace safety monitoring.
Walker said FEMA imposed the ban on entering stored trailers in early August, but some employees apparently weren't aware of the policy change.

When asked, reporters were told that "it's common knowledge" that stored trailers with no ventilation allow formaldehyde to build up. What about the occupied trailers. They're OK?

Last week, FEMA indefinitely postponed plans to test for formaldehyde levels in the air inside occupied trailers, saying it needed more time to prepare.

They aren't reselling used ones anymore and won't put anyone else in them. But it's OK for 10,000 Katrina storm victims in Mississippi and 37,000 in Louisiana to live in them. You figure out the logic of all this.

Maybe logic isn't the right word, here.

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I heard this story on NPR last week. It lead me to wonder if there is something different about FEMA trailers from the hundrends of thousands of other trailers in this country? Should no none enter any trailer? Does the level of formaldehyde abate with the opening and closing of the door, and windows, or vents that happens during a normal day if the trailer is occupied? Were these trailers built just for Katrina/Rita, or have they been around for a while? What components of the trailers are releasing the formaldehyde?
I was warned when purchasing new carpet for my house not to let children in the room with the new carpet for a few weeks until the formaldehyde had outgassed. Is this problem of the same degree?

I guess the story just left me with a lot of questions that I would assume (sigh, I know, I know) someone at FEMA would have investigated.

By Tom in Iowa (not verified) on 20 Nov 2007 #permalink

You mean the FEMA that recently staged a fake press conference?

(Sorry, I couldn't help myself--I was in New Orleans for Katrina and I'm still a bit bitter.)

A BIT bitter? I fail to understand how the government can get away with these things. Can you imagine what would happen to someone who did this WITHOUT governtment money? They'd spend the rest of their lives in jail. How does two wrongs make it ok?

Its the carpet. It outgasses when its hot. Entering the trailers without a window open could be pretty rough. We have all smelled new carpet and it stinks.

But then again Revere, I guess they should just boot that 10,000 and 37,000 out on their butts. I know, the USGovt should build them houses too? I am a little confused here. Are you worried about possible hazards or the fact that they are not back in houses? This is a redux of a previous post. The trailers need to be aired out before use. Leaving them closed up day in and day out certainly would load them up with gases. But they bought them from dealers that have been in the business for over 70 years so is outgassing carpet the thrust here, or that FEMA put roofs over their heads? Remember the nice Phd in Environmental Health from Tulane said all that they had to do was open the windows. Thats a lot of windows to open and close I would say and just going in and out of that many would likely make you sick.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 20 Nov 2007 #permalink

Formaldehyde is released from plywood and particle board. There are other sources in new construction, including wall coverings and, as mentioned above, carpet surface treatments and likely adhesives.

There is an HUD standard on emissions from wood products. Likely the resins in the wood products are the largest mass of formaldehyde in the built environment.

IARC classified formaldehyde as a Group 1, Known Human Carcinogen.

By Frank Mirer (not verified) on 21 Nov 2007 #permalink

It might later be found that in the haste to make 70,000 trailers that corners were cut and illegal materials used. If so then EVERY government contract has provisions for a lawsuit and remedies. Historically though government takes a hit and the others just file a bankruptcy. On one hand you didnt have people living in tents, on the other you do you get into the disaster business for other than immediate needs? It puts the US government into the position of becoming the doctor, provider, home builder..... Federal Flood Insurance is a classic example. They did the same thing in the St. Louis floods and finally when the one even just about sacked the treasury, they bought them out and refused to provide...flood insurance.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 21 Nov 2007 #permalink

I got into the formaldehyde business in the late 70's/early 80's when urea/formaldehyde foam was the star replacement for blown-in cellulose to insulate non-insulated houses. If it wasn't mixed exactly right, it outgassed over months/years instead of days/weeks and people got sensitized. Then, they couldn't live in their houses until all the formaldehyde was removed. That was nearly impossible.I had one guy who bought a travel trailer, gutted it to the metal skin, insulated it with fiberglass, and then lined it, floor, walls and ceiling with tongue & groove pine. Installed electric baseboard heat and that's where he slept. By staying out of his home during the day (at work) and sleeping in "the camper" at night, he could continue to live with his family.I have to admit, that with the T&G pine, the camper was pretty neat looking...Having said that, FEMA's attitude, protect our employees, but let our "customers" be damned, sux. They're doin' a heckuva job.

To be perfectly honest, the only thing that really surprised me about this bit of news was that they were careless enough to let that internal memo go public. But in retrospect, even that shouldn't have surprised me.

Cathie--FEMA was just one contributor to the Katrina fiasco. New Orleans has gotten screwed in just about every way you could imagine by local politicians right on up to the President. I couldn't even get the Post Office to give my neighborhood back its mail boxes this summer!

I'm way past anger at this point, and mostly past despair as well. In fact, I'm starting to find the whole thing hysterically funny, probably because some part of my brain refuses to believe it could be anything but a bad movie.

On that note--happy Thanksgiving to all, I'm about to put on my fancy hat and head over to opening day at Fairgrounds Race Track!

ABC gets this one right. Those levees were doomed from the day they were built. I was there and the construction was shit. I saw animal carcasses that had been buried in those levees along with what amounted to mud. It was a cheap minimal solution to trying to go "Dutch" and living below sea level. It certainly wasnt from the lack of money flowing into the various parishes. The people who would say NO was Godless and got what they deserved are full of crap. But it would seem that the people who had robbed the USGovt blind for 300 million having now only accounted for 2 million of it did indeed get what they deserve, or really more their constituents.

Is it deserving to know that things had to change but the same politicians got elected over and over? Hey you voted for the guys. The levees that failed were not Army Corps levees. They were state and local. The city was so corrupt and inept that it finally came to a head in Katrina. That money flowed in there starting with Bush 1, Clinton 1, 2, Bush 2. Not a dime of it can be accounted for. It was GB who started the ball rolling after Andrew, Clinton followed it thru, and GB2 who got the shitty end of the stick. It wouldnt have mattered who was sitting in the seat, they would have gotten blamed. Not one mention of the fact that a 5-10 foot wave that was higher than the shitty levee was the real problem. Or the hydropressure involved.

It started with Nagin, then upped it to Blanco who was so terribly incompetent, and some to GB. Brown got a raw deal because the response wasnt mounted quickly enough. The President should have overridden the Blanco machine by declaring a state of emergency and Brown should have told him to do it. It was a slow motion disaster. GB doesnt watch TV. If he had he would have issued the declaration and told Blanco to go and screw herself. Tony Snow whammered the last person that tried this though and that was the Gov. of Kansas when the tornado's ripped thru there. The assertion made that they couldnt respondebecause they had no trucks because they were in Iraq. Snow ripped her when under Federal Law he trotted out the request that they HAD made.... It was for radios, not trucks.

It isnt about mailboxes ABC, its about people and what happened to them. My kids have always been taught never to depend on anything or anyone in government and to only be tolerant of them. If they were competent then they would have real jobs in the private sector. I was in one of those trailers over Labor Day in NO and yes there were tell tail signs and smells of what I thought was VOC's rather than formaldehyde. They were parked in the lower 9th and up on the driveway pads. There are hundreds if not thousands of homes visible from the overpasses that go back two hundred years in some cases that have had blue tarps over them since Katrina. The insurance companies wont insure them, the people cant sell them because they cant get insurance which is required and they cant get loans to repair something that might go down the shitter again in the next hurricane season. So whats left? Cheap demolitions and homes brought up to at least sea level grade. The reason there are no mailbox deliveries is that they dont have the staff or the equipment to deliver the mail in the manner to the people in which they were accustomed. Time to shake it off and understand that the federal assistance phase is over this February. Trailers will be the least of the worries when that happens. The State of Louisiana had better get moving on their own.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 22 Nov 2007 #permalink