Manufacturers say they knew of FEMA trailer health risks
Manufacturers testified before Congress Wednesday that they were aware that the trailers used to house victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita contained unsafe levels of formaldehyde. Congressional Republicans say that the government is ultimately at fault because it did not establish air quality standards for those specific types of homes.Skip to next paragraph
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At a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, California Democrat Henry Waxman grilled officials of four companies – Gulf Stream Coach, Pilgrim International, Keystone RV, and Forest River – whose trailers were found to have the highest levels of formaldehyde, a chemical used to pressure-treat the wood panels in the trailers.
When Gulf Stream tested 11 occupied trailers two years ago, it found that every one had levels at or above 100 parts per billion, the level at which researchers say acute health effects begin to occur. Four of the trailers had levels above 500 parts per billion, the level at which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires medical monitoring.
Representative Waxman said that the companies should have informed the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the high levels of the toxic gas.
He sharply criticized Gulf Stream Coach chairman Jim Shea, whose company built 50,000 trailers for FEMA for $520 million. An investigation by House Democrats revealed documents that showed that the company had tested its trailers and found unsafe levels of the chemical. In his opening statement, Waxman said that Gulf Stream treated the test results "as a public relations and legal problem, not a public health threat," and that "It found pervasive formaldehyde contamination in its trailers. And it did not tell anyone."
Gulf Stream did write a letter to FEMA [PDF] in which it said that "informal testing" of the trailers indicated that the formaldehyde levels fell below what they called "the OSHA standard" of 750 parts per billion. That figure is the maximum level of allowable workplace exposure.