In 2005 and 2006, the United States government manufactured more than 120,000 trailers in order to provide shelter for New Orleans families and individuals displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The new trailers arrived in New Orleans and with them brought hope – finally, a place to live that had never been submerged in up to twelve feet of water. They were new and, importantly, mold-free.
Shortly after the arrival of the trailers, pediatricians in the area began noticing a sudden upswing in respiratory infections in children – many of whom lived in the FEMA trailers. The link between mobile homes and formaldehyde had been well-documented for years, with no regulations from the manufacturers or the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development – even after the National Institutes of Health declared formaldehyde a known carcinogen. Cramped quarters in the trailers only worsened the fumes’ effects.
After Katrina, families had to escape the mold problems that persisted in the aftermath of flooding, but then they also had to escape the formaldehyde problems stemming from emergency trailers. In hindsight, perhaps this hazard served as a catalyst for rebuilding and getting homeowners back on their feet. By 2007, FEMA suspended public sales of the trailers and announced plans to move as many residents as possible out of the trailers because of formaldehyde levels. But what happened to the trailers when refugees moved out?
One would hope, or even expect, that they were disposed or perhaps rebuilt to be safer. Unfortunately, none of that happened. FEMA donated the trailers to the General Service Administration (GSA) to auction off the trailers for only seven percent of what FEMA originally paid for them. The only caveat for the GSA was that they had to place stickers on each trailer: “NOT TO BE USED FOR HOUSING.”
So GSA auctioned off the trailers to retailers who removed the stickers and resold them as viable housing. Over the past ten years, clusters of FEMA trailers have popped up in rural areas all throughout the south and midwest. Central Illinois has a particularly high concentration of trailers.
In one of Illinois’ trailer parks, formaldehyde levels were testing at twenty parts per billion – the Center for Disease Control had previously stated that any levels over 8 parts per billion were unsafe, and FEMA wrote their own policy that upped the safe amount to 16 parts per billion. Either way, these trailer homes are too unsafe to be just that – homes.
Between mold and formaldehyde exposure, it’s a tough call. Both prey on certain individuals (the immunocompromised, infants, the elderly) more than others – so it’s not always a matter of when you’ll be affected, but if. When it comes to the safety your home provides for your family, though, you don’t want to take any chances.Tags: formaldehyde, hurricane katrina, illinois, midwest, mold