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Homeland Security chairman to investigate FEMA sales

(July 2, 2010) -- "Once again, these trailers are endangering the lives and health of Gulf Coast residents. In other words, as I predicted several years ago, certifications, warnings and pasted on disclaimers are not enough to protect health and safety," Thompson wrote.

WASHINGTON — Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to three high-ranking officials in the Obama administration regarding press reports that formaldehyde tainted trailers and temporary housing units are being sold and lived in by oil spill cleanup workers temporarily living in Louisiana.

The letter was sent to Attorney General Eric H. Holder, General Services Administration Administrator Martha N. Johnson, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator W. Craig Fugate.

Here’s the text of the letter:

“On June 30, the New York Times reported that formaldehyde-ridden temporary housing units (TSUs) or travel trailers originally used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina, are now being resold to unsuspecting oil spill cleanup workers temporarily living in Louisiana. Clearly, your efforts to prevent the resale of these trailers for human habitation have failed.

“On multiple occasions, I have questioned the sale of these formaldehyde-contaminated trailers. In those letters, I warned of the health threat posed by the sale of these trailers at public auction and stressed to FEMA, the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) that such units would likely be resold to consumers with no warning of their toxicity.

“In response to these concerns, your respective agencies have repeatedly issued assurances attesting either to the safety of the units or the soundness of the process. For instance, when I expressed concerns that these formaldehyde-contaminated units were being sold at public auction to unsuspecting buyers, in a letter dated April 1, 2009, FEMA indicated that the GSA buyers’ certification language would be strengthened to require all buyers to certify that these units would not be used as housing.

“Additionally, according to FEMA and GSA, these buyers would be required to inform any subsequent purchaser that these units should not be used for human habitation and should not be sold as housing units. Buyers were also required to acknowledge that the units they were buying might have formaldehyde.

“The New York Times article concerning the use of these formaldehyde-contaminated trailers as housing indicated that FEMA, GSA and DOJ’s efforts to prevent these units from entering the stream of commerce, serving as dwellings suitable for human habitation, or preventing exposure to unsuspecting residents have failed.

“Once again, these trailers are endangering the lives and health of Gulf Coast residents. In other words, as I predicted several years ago, certifications, warnings and pasted on disclaimers are not enough to protect health and safety.

“The dumping of over 100,000 trailers, recreational vehicles and mobile homes into the stream of commerce with a simple buyer beware is inexcusable and reckless. Many of these units have alarming levels of formaldehyde, mold and mildew festering inside, and now they are housing many of the workers that our nation is relying upon to help us recover from the devastating effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“It is simply irresponsible for our federal government to allow this to continue. For these reasons, I am requesting that at a minimum, you investigate the following:

  1. It is apparent that from this article the purchasers of the THUs are in violation of their agreement with GSA. What steps is GSA taking to investigate this matter. Should the purchases be found in violation of the agreement, what penalties will they face when the DOJ begins prosecutions?
  2. It was stated in the article that FEMA placed decals on the THUs stating that they were not to be used as housing. What type of decals or warning stickers did FEMA place inside each trailer? If decals were placed inside the trailers, why did subsequent purchasers claim that there were no such decals? If these decals were removed from the units prior to resale, what are the penalties for doing so?
  3. The article states the GSA inspector general has opened at least seven cases concerning buyers who might not have posted the certification and formaldehyde warnings on trailers they sold. What is the status of each case and has the inspector general opened any additional cases as a result of the New York Times article?
  4. Did any purchaser provide documentation indicating how they intended to use the trailers? If so, please provide to the committee.”

SOURCE: Rep. Bennie Thompson press release

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About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is a freelance writer and podcaster who has been writing about the RV industry since 2000. He is the former editor of RV Daily Report.


  1. Finally someone talking sense.

  2. Now what? The government (we) will need to print more money and buy all of these units back. Great way to run a railroad.

  3. Typical government. On this hand were are going to do this and on this hand we are going to contradict the first hand. Not only did we spend millions buying these trailers and storing them (while making sure no one could live in them). After selling them to buyers, to get them off our books. We are now going to buy them ALL back again and the great part is??? We are going to use tax payer dollars again!!!! Yeah!!!!

  4. “Houston, we’ve a problem here.” Lawmakers should investigate why typical homes have more formaldehyde than FEMA trailers. A $3.5 Million home had 198ppb formaldehyde measured in the MBR. Nearly 3X the typical FEMA trailer. This is ‘GreenPoint Rated, CARB Phase 1 compliant, a/c on & cooling to 68, front door opened, windows cracked open & 24×365 forced fresh air ventilation system on.

    Typical homes have formaldehyde concentration @75ppb, same as FEMA trailers. ‘Green’ homes have more formaldehyde @100ppb.

    “Nearly all homes (98%) had formaldehyde concentrations that exceeded guidelines for cancer and chronic irritation…” Typical concentration was 4X the State of CA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessments not to exceed 7ppb standard.

    “The rise in childhood asthma, beginning in the early 1980s, has paralleled an increase in energy efficiency of buildings, and data suggest that increased chemical exposure in indoor environments may be the reason. Greater insulation, less ventilation, and a huge increase in new chemicals and products, within new buildings, collectively induces chemical exposures and potential health effects never previously experienced in human history.”

    “Unintended Consequences: Formaldehyde Exposures in Green Buildings”

    Much of residential formaldehyde exposure comes from insulation in walls & attic/floor if sealed.

    Debate continues on what is an acceptable formaldehyde concentration. EPA won’t allow their workers occupy new office space if formaldehyde is @16ppb. That makes CA’s standard @7ppb for homes reasonable.

    UC research compare absenteeism in Energy Star (no testing) vs. LEED Commercial (required testing). Builders would build acceptable homes without further regulation if testing/reporting was required. Consumers won’t knowingly accept an unhealthy home.

    Anyone can use the Sierra Club’s method that discovered the FEMA trailers. Cost $39 including lab analysis.

    CARB shouldn’t be used for residential applications.

    Formaldehyde has no safe level of exposure.

    CARB not a health standard instead based on the “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.”

    Until residents are willing to read & acknowledge the true significance of formaldehyde, history will continue to repeat & likely get worse.

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