Does your vintage travel trailer harbor harmful toxins?

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By Dylan Hendrix

It’s not a secret that retro travel campers are growing in popularity. From vintage vans, converted schoolies, and restored RVs, these adventure-worthy projects start by being stripped down to the frame and overhauled from the wheels up. 4

The stages of a camper renovation can take shape as a series of do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, with assistance from skilled professionals when needed.

A home on wheels is similar to a traditional house in the sense that any renovation requires hours worth of time, energy and money.

People can become  so overwhelmed by the excitement of a project that safety precautions are sometimes thrown out the window.  During the process of converting any vehicle to functional perfection, there are a number of toxic hazards that could get in your way.

Some toxins may be more obvious than others. Simple education and mindful preventative actions can better equip any enthusiast considering renovations.

Formaldehyde exposure risks

Many composite wood products used in the production of RVs will contain formaldehyde, often used as a glue or adhesive in a variety of marine or outdoor vehicles. The chemical can also be found in types of insulation, carpeting, furniture, wall finishings and cleaners.

Formaldehyde can be classified as a volatile organic compound (VOC), meaning the fumes from these materials can be released into the air and inhaled by humans. Exposure to high or consistent levels of formaldehyde is known to cause cancer, upper respiratory problems, nosebleeds and even asthma.

Exposure to elevated levels can have immediate symptoms such as sore throat, headaches, cough, scratchy eyes and nosebleeds. Exposure sensitivity of any VOC will vary by individual, some people will notice no problems while others can quickly become sick.

Formaldehyde is a modern threat and more present in new recreation vehicles, rather than vintage or classic trailers, campers and vans. Over the past decade there has been an upsurge in these types of toxic RV concerns.

Many argue that this is because manufacturers are returning to practices of using cheaper materials containing toxic materials like formaldehyde. A renovation project gives owners the opportunity to choose the materials inside their vehicles, and take health into their own hands.

Asbestos exposure risks

Asbestos is a fibrous material which occurs naturally and was adopted as an extraordinary additive in building materials. Due to its strength and resistance against heat and water, asbestos was an obvious addition across many products and industries.

For decades, asbestos was known as a miracle mineral and an efficient insulator for homes and high friction or heat-exposed components. Until 1980, when asbestos was linked directly to mesothelioma cancer, this carcinogen was used on a large scale across the globe.

Unfortunately, many older travel trailers will contain asbestos insulation. It is hard to pinpoint which parts or models contain asbestos materials since historically manufactured vehicles had more relaxed regulations.

It is important to note that asbestos fibers are not dangerous when undisturbed and completely intact, it only becomes dangerous when damaged and mistakenly inhaled.

It is not surprising that RV owners want to remove asbestos from their trailers, but it must be removed tactfully and carefully.

In the age of DIY projects, and with a market saturated in dated vehicles begging to be restored, asbestos-exposure becomes a serious health concern that can easily be overlooked on a busy schedule.

Most flooring materials, wall panels, electrical casing, heat gaskets, and even brake pads that are dated pre-1980 will contain asbestos fibers to some level.

Many of these materials can be removed safely, depending on the condition of the materials. If you are concerned or unsure, a professional should be contacted and proper abatement techniques should be followed.

Fume and gas exposure risks

There are a variety of colorless and odorless gasses that might cross your path during an RV renovation or adventure on the open road. From common sources, like gasoline and oil fumes, to more serious threats like carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide, toxins exist everywhere.

It remains an important responsibility of any RV hobbyist to understand the toxic sources that may jeopardize the air quality within a space and the ways to actively mitigate or avoid them.

The simplest way to catch a silent killer is by installing monitoring systems for common toxins. Carbon monoxide is responsible for the high majority of RV related deaths. Air quality monitoring is a wise choice in any confined or multifunctional space.

Regular maintenance for different components of your vehicle will help eliminate any accidental leaks or unknown sources. Proper ventilation within the living spaces of a recreational vehicle is important for basic air circulation, while also allowing any unknown toxins an avenue to escape.

Whether you find yourself renovating your RV, unsure of your vehicle’s safety or the victim of toxic exposure while on the road and far from your primary care, be sure to visit the Association of Poison Control Centers to find immediate assistance closest to you.

Guest Blogger

Guest Blogger

RV Daily Report welcomes opinion pieces and feature stories submitted by people interested in the RV industry and the RV lifestyle. To submit something for publication, send it to

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