Some background on the FEMA trailers moved in for Katrina victims: the same units have been used to house U.S. troops for some time now. Although many are demanding that FEMA provide better housing than the trailers, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin argues for keeping them rather than displace people again.
At issue: the potential toxicity of formaldehyde, used in the manufacture of trailer particleboard components. Ironically, trailers and recreational vehicles (RVs) made of the same components are still for sale to paying customers on lots around the U.S.
Many Katrina victims have joined in lawsuits demanding payment because they were exposed to formaldehyde in FEMA-provided trailers. One of the major ways that people are exposed to formaldehyde: cigarette smoking.
In settings that are not smoke-free, the air can have three times the normal levels of this poison. Formaldehyde is one of the substances in tobacco smoke most likely to cause diseases in the lungs and airways.
The chemical is suspected of causing cancer in humans, and it also is known to produce allergic reactions and asthma-like conditions, lightheadedness, dizziness, diminished coordination, itching eyes, dry and sore throats, disturbed sleep, unusual thirst and harmful disease in humans. Formaldehyde exposure can also occur from glue, paper products, cosmetics, deodorants, shampoos, fabric dyes and permanent-press fabrics, inks, disinfectants, air deodorizers and carpet deodorizers.
FEMA bought most of the trailers off the same lots that trailer and RV shoppers use. Recently, a legal expert said that dealers who sold the trailers to FEMA probably will be safe from legal claims.
It's unknown whether or not smokers, or those who live with them, could prove that any potential damages from formaldehyde occurred only from FEMA-provided trailers.