First Toxic FEMA Trailer Lawsuit Scheduled for September Trial

The first lawsuit over <"">toxic Hurricane Katrina trailers will go to trial in September. Like scores of others, the lawsuit claims that travel trailers the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) supplied as temporary housing to Hurricane Katrina victims exposed residents to dangerous chemicals.

By 2006 FEMA was getting reports from field workers along the Gulf Coast that residents of FEMA trailers where getting sick from the air in the toxic trailers. The first suspect was formaldehyde, which is used in the manufacture of the trailers.

Formaldehyde is an invisible gas that is known to cause cancer. It can also cause other illnesses ranging from nose bleeds to chronic bronchitis. Commonly used in manufactured homes, formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems and has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

E-mails uncovered during a congressional investigation into the trailers showed that FEMA lawyers told the agency to drag its feet on air quality testing. FEMA’s Office of General Council also advised the agency not to test the trailers because doing so “would imply FEMA’s ownership of the issue”.

In late 2007, FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finally conducted air quality tests of 519 trailers. The CDC tests confirmed that the FEMA trailers posed a serious danger to residents still living in them. The average formaldehyde levels found in the toxic trailers measured 77ppb (parts per billions), significantly higher than the 10 to 17 ppb concentration seen in newer homes. When it announced its findings, the CDC urged FEMA to move residents from the toxic trailers as quickly as possible, with priority given to families with children, elderly people or anyone with asthma or other chronic conditions.

Hundreds of people sickened by the trailers’ fumes have since sued their manufacturers, as well as the federal government. According to the Associated Press, a lawsuit filed on behalf of a New Orleans woman and her son will be the first FEMA trailer lawsuit to go to trial. The trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 14 in federal court. The lawsuit names Gulf Stream Coach Inc. as a defendant.

This first trial will be followed by three others that name different trailer manufacturers as defendants, the Associated Press said.

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