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July 1st, 2010
07:46 AM ET

FEMA Trailers from Hurricane Katrina Resurrected for Oil Disaster

After Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided 120,000 trailers to victims and relief workers.

Residents soon began complaining of sore throats, burning eyes and noses and trouble breathing.

The cause? High levels of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is an industrial chemical that is linked to nasal cancer, respiratory problems and even leukemia. Scientists believe that the fumes resulted from cheap wood and poor ventilation. Whatever the cause, the government banned the trailers from being used for long term housing. The fumes and health risks were too high.

But the trailers, which cost FEMA $130 million a year to maintain and store, recently found a new market. According to the New York Times, they are being bought by hundreds of contracting companies, dozens of which are in Louisiana, and by individuals in public auctions. Some buyers said they were unaware of the health risks.


Yesterday, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder, General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Martha N. Johnson and FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate concerning media reports that the banned FEMA trailers from Hurricane Katrina are being used again.

Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Charlie Melancon (D-La.) also wrote the GSA asking for answers on the banned trailers. Read their letter here.

If you're living in one of these trailers, we want to hear from you.
For everyone else, we want to know what you think about this story.

Post your comments here. Kyra will read some of them on the air during the 10am ET hour of the CNN Newsroom.

Filed under: Anchors • CNN Newsroom • Kyra Phillips • What the...?
soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    The FEMA Trailors were a big blunder by incompetent people which left victim's without shelter in a time of need and it didnt stop there they stored supply's in warehouses that were never distributed to the people FEMA needs oversight big time .

    July 1, 2010 at 8:08 am |
  2. Dan

    Wow, what is the government doing, trying to kill everyone? Yesterday's report at the VA in Missouri and now this.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:07 am |
  3. Rick

    When Our government found out about the health hazards inside of these trailers they should of 1. went and got our money back! and 2.investigated the manufacturers and impose fines if neglegence was found! Why does it cost so much for such a lousey job? The government needs to get it in gear and start giving the American people what We pay for and deserve!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  4. Kristian Nelson

    Your asking the wrong question. Why was not the manufacturer of these toxic trailer sued for liability, and prosecuted for criminally for attempted murder on multiple counts? Why did our government not recoup the money for these toxic trailers? Why were they not destroyed or completely fixed after the issue came to light? Seems like someone is asleep at the switch in the Federal government on this one.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  5. Scott Stodden

    I don't think if these FEMA trailors have all these health risks that these workers should be living in them, what are these people thinking?

    Scott Stodden (Freeport,Illinois)

    July 1, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  6. Jose

    This just goes to show how great our government really is. Why do we just sit and watch people get sick? It happened with Katrina now with BP. What the??? Now to healthcare reform, isn't it all about preventative care? Apparently not. Step it up people, I worked on the Hill as a Page two years ago and know real work does get done but it's all wasted efforts because the right people do not listen. As a domocrat, I am ashamed at the speed of this. We worry about external struggles but not ones home like this and immigration.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  7. Ray from LasVegas

    They sure look a lot better than my option when I was about to be on the street because I had no income and no place to stay.

    People Don't know how much I would have appreciated this option. If people don't want it, well then they don't have to take it.

    But if they do, then Well WHY NOT!!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  8. john m

    I don't live in one but I know people are buying them cheap and renting them out in louisiana . I think it is terrible.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  9. LisaAHR

    Laster year my father an 80 year old man bought one of these trailers from the Blackfeet Tribe in montana...these trailers were sold or given to the Blackfeet Tribe. I haven't heard people getting sick from these Fema trailers as of yet. Maybe CNN could check into that.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  10. Rianna

    I lived in a FEMA trailer that had been sold to the trailer park that I lived in in Tampa, FL. My son, who was 6 at the time, suffered from daily nosebleeds, colds, and respiratory issues while in that trailer and I couldn't figure out why. My father brought the health issue with the FEMA trailers to my attention, and we moved out as soon as we could find another place. I'm in Southwest Florida now and have been for 3 years, and my son hasn't had a serious health issue since we moved out of the trailer. I brought the problem to the attention of a friend who was managing the park, and she was absolutely appalled over the situation.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  11. Richard Gandolf

    This is a bogus concern hyped by the news media. All new vehicles, buildings, houses and RV’s will have high levels of plastic solvents in the air from paint, plastics and carpet. Intelligent owners know to air out these places when they are new and air borne solvents will soon be reduced to safe levels. Thanks

    July 1, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  12. Angela

    This isn't the first time these FEMA trailers have popped up since CNN first broadcast about their use and troubles with formaldehyde. They were shipped to Indian reservations and Native American communities around the country. There are several in use now on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, NC.

    When a family becomes ill, they simply move them to another trailer. The U.S. Government has used smallpox infected blankets in the past, now they're using formaldehyde trailers.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  13. khayla moore

    My name is Khayla Moore and I'm 10yrs with a little advise.
    With the facts that have been given about the formaldehyde and the health risk. I believe the situation is only going to get worse when you make a decision to move the trailers for others to live in regardless of the time frame. This is my solution: Purchase a property that holds a large number of occupancy which can be used for FEMA's emergency facility this way is paid in full verse spending $130 million a year to maintain and etc.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:14 am |
  14. George Cohen

    Kristian has asked the exact right question. How is it that companies can get contracts with the US government, produce garbage that is potentially lethal and not have to answer for their shoddy quality.

    When I worked for a company that manufactured electronic equipment, we went to great lengths to find the root cause of problems and then we vent back to the vendor to hold them responsible. Which menat they had to replace the bad parts!

    Where has the responibility gone?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  15. Lauren

    Honestly, those FEMA trailers should really be destroyed. They were banned, right? So why are we allowing someone else to live in them, and suffer the effects. Sometimes you really have to think whether these people think or not. Its amazing when you think how stupid some of them are!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  16. The Truth

    Correct me if I am wrong, but Formaldehyde is found in almost all things manufactured (at least for building). These people living in the FEMA trailers should have opened up the windows to allow the units to air out. Instead, they keep the AC running 24 hours a day as cold as it can get and lock it up air tight. Besides, half of these people should have been in and out of these units within a matter of weeks, but yet here they are 5 years later still living in an 8'x30' travel trailer. These things are meant for recreational use....not permanant living. The fact of the matter is, you should be yelling at the people living rent free for the last 5 years.

    We, the tax payers are not only paying for these people to have rent free living, but also for contractors maintain these units once a month and replace any item that needs replacing. So quit complaining about the trailers and start requiring the free loaders to get back on their feet.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  17. rich

    Formaldehyde is larger than FEMA trailers. 'Green,' Phase 1 CARB compliant, $3.5 Million home had 198 ppb formaldehyde w/front door & windows open, 24×365 forced fresh air ventilation system & A/C set @ 68.

    "LEED Certification – Where Energy Efficiency Collides with Human Health" 5/25/2010:
    "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 induce chemical exposures and potential health effects never previously experienced in human history."

    California Air Resources Board's report 12/15/2009:
    "Nearly all homes(98%)had formaldehyde concentrations that exceeded guidelines for cancer and chronic irritation..."

    Unintended Consequences: Formaldehyde Exposures in Green Homes 2/2010 &

    July 1, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  18. Kathleen Eagle

    My sister-in-law lives in a FEMA trailer on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota. She's had nothing but trouble since she moved in last fall, when the Standing Rock Sioux (Lakota) Tribal acquired over 100 of them for $1 each plus the cost of shipping. The trailers are poorly insulated, have gaps in the walls, and all electric. Electricity bills reached $1500 per month last winter. In North Dakota, these little tin boxes are ice chests in the winter and ovens in the summer for people who have been for over a century and still are in desperate need of decent housing.

    Now we learn that they trailers are toxic with formaldehyde as well. My sister-in-law has chronic health problems. She's taking care of a baby–her grandchild–and has very limited income. Why does our government persist in exacerbating the problems in Indian Country? Is it because most reservations are so isolated that the "out of sight, out of mind" axiom continues to apply, even in this information age?

    My husband just put in a call, telling the family to "get on the moccasin telegraph and find out whether anyone knows anything about this chemical scare."

    Maybe CNN will follow up.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  19. Antonio Peralski

    I am embarrassed to be an American and be compared with some of you ignorant people.

    The United States is the only one that takes care of its people in the time of a disaster,
    When someone looses their home and every they ever owned, the United States is the only one that provides Emergency Dwelling to these people. These Mobile homes and Trailers are not designed to be permanent homes just a shelter. Should we give our Citizens who have lost everything a blue tarp instead with 4 sticks to hold it up or a tent that will leak and is incredibly hot or cold. Until you guys loose everything and have no shelter, I would hold off on the criticism. Compare our situation with other countries like Cuba, Haiti, Mexico what do their citizens get? Besides for the same amount of time that this has been an issue, the cure has also been discussed, what part is so difficult for you guys to understand, close all the windows, put the heater on high for 24 hours then shut off the heater and reopen all the windows for 3 hours before occupying

    July 1, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  20. Angie

    In the article "Fema taking hit on sale of surplus trailers" dated Thursday March 8 2007 of the Washington Post staff writer Spencer S Hsu it was reported that Fema was selling those trailers at 40 cents on the dollar. The article said that selling directly to consumers could pose safety hazards if adequate training was not provided. Now notice the date of the Article, "MARCH 8 2007".

    But NOW Republicans and Tea Partiers are complaining the safety hazards. Why didn't they complain back in 2007 during the Bush Administration when the trailers were being sold and auctioned off.

    Because Republicans and Tea Partiers want to blame it all on Obama. Those trailers were already sold and auctioned off at 40 cents on the dollar. Now those people and companies that bought those trailers in 2007 and 2008 at 40 cents on the dollar are selling and auctioning them off to make their money +plus some.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  21. saltylife

    i seem to recall they blamed BUSH for the fema crap but whos to blam now ,,, Obama needs to be impeached asap n cooper needs to get a grip !

    July 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  22. A

    Have the trailers been tested again in the last 6 months? Formaldehyde evaporates over time and 5 years is a long time. 5 years ago the the levels may have been toxic but now no way.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  23. R Wilson

    I live in Alabama and a few months ago, my landlord purchased several of the used FEMA trailers—added a septic system, utilities, and moved people into them. A couple of weeks ago, a City of Huntsville representative inspected the trailers and the residents were told to, immediately, move out of them.

    Since the US Government basically condemned the trailers because of the formaldehyde, can the residents, who lived in them for a few months, file any claims against anyone—if so, whom?

    July 2, 2010 at 7:20 am |
  24. michael o'

    Those FEMA trailers are only fit for the BP executives.

    July 2, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  25. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    The FEMA trailers should make the FDA real proud of themselves our government is as screwd up as a two headed snake.

    July 2, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  26. gwen

    Check out rvs for sale in any area of the US right now and you will find auctions and storage lots filled w/FEMA trailers for sale to the public.........

    July 2, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  27. Joseph

    First off these oil spill workers go out there and try to clean up our coast line. Then we repay them by giving them houses that are going to make them sick?? Welcome to America i guess right. This is a complete outrage and needs to be looked into immediately.

    July 2, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  28. gwen

    I have found several even advertised as Fema trailers for sale on Craigs list by individuals as well as dealers......what is with this?

    July 2, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  29. NKB

    "Surprise, Surprise"!!!!! About a year ago there was talk about moving those "tainted" trailers to South Dakota to be used on Indian Reservations!!!!! Guess the "small pox" we intentionally inflicted on them didn't quite "do the job"!!! What rock do these idiots crawl out from under???

    July 2, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  30. Bob Thornton, Valrico FL

    The oil cleanup workers should be put up in vacant hotel/motel rooms along the coast made empty by the BP disaster. The room rates can be negotiated. If they're not already getting one, they should also get a per diem to spend in local restaurants. Either way, BP is going to pay for this.

    July 2, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  31. Paul Zeka

    There is no place or time when the government that was set up to work "FOR" us, slaps us in the face without blinking an eye. The calaber of help we get reflects the calaber of the leader we have in the white house. Find a quick fix and ignore any "minor issues" that may be standing in the way. Mr. President, you are the "minor issue" now standing in the way of a fast and effective stop and clean up of the gulf oil disaster. May we ignore you now?

    July 2, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  32. Buff Leitch

    In your report you said the trailers had been banned from long term use. Hopefully, they have been sent to the gulf for temporary use. They need housing for workers until more appropriate housing can be found. Of course BP probably gave a big "fist pump--YES" when they heard our government is supplying the workers with housing that could take some of the heat off BP for health problems caused by the clean-up. ^_^

    July 2, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  33. Linda Jakobsen

    My husband and I are one of over a million people living fulltime in travel trailers and motorhomes. It is a lifestyle we have chosen in order to travel the US in our retirement. All these "homes" have lots of veneer wood in them, all with formeldehyde and we aren't sick, complaining or want money from the government. With doors opening, windows open, a/c on, heater on, the air constantly changes and the levels are not dangerous. I would love to know how tests were conducted but I can probably guess...close up the place in 100+ temperatures and see what it dumb. There is nothing wrong with those trailers....they are the same ones being sold to every camping family in America with no problems. Those clean up people are out working all day, there is a/c in those trailers and they will be just fine, go find something worthy to be "appalled" over.

    July 2, 2010 at 9:07 am |
  34. Deborah

    This makes me wonder if there is any way out of this mess.

    There are idiots in charge. How did we get such incompentent leadership in place not only at FEMA, the Coast Guard, BP, and our government–local, state, and national levels–but also on Wall Street, the military, the intelligence (I use the term loosely here) community, immigration, and homeland security?

    When are the people of this country going to wake up and figure out that we are the only ones who can keep these people–government and corporate–honest.

    It should be obvious that we are paying the high price of non-involvement, lack of interest, and lack of education in all these areas. It is a sad day to realize more people are interested in the outcome of American Idol, the Housewives of -, and reality games than they are in the inner workings of their country, which directly affects their well-being and income. What is it going to take to wake folks up?

    July 2, 2010 at 9:07 am |
  35. Daniel

    Another great screw up by FEMA. FEMA looks at everyone that is helping clean up as pawns in chess an if they are lost well the kings an queens are still alive an happy. How can the members of FEMA go to bed at night?

    July 2, 2010 at 9:09 am |
  36. steve byerly

    The small town I live by is Winnie Texas ,,,,,,, There is a company that has moved in, selling these trailers to the public for very reasonable prices ,,,,,,,,But Should they be able to do this, knowing that they have been found to cause health problems ,,,,, I'm thinking the company contracted with the feds to despose of the trailers ,,,,,,,,,,,, not sale them to the public ,,,,,,,,,, What a deal for them,, on both ends...........

    July 2, 2010 at 9:13 am |
  37. mark griffin

    I have over ten years of manufactured home set up / tear down experience. I have seen this problem before. The formaldehyde is coming from the vinyl wrap gypsum board used to construct the walls. The manufacturer has been aware of this problem for a long time and I'm sure they have a solution by now. just off the top of my head I would say to wipe down the walls and air the place out until the levels are with in safe limits. These homes are so air tight that air exchange is a problem.
    Dont blame the government for the problem, this is another example of bitting the hand that feeds. If I was homeless and someone gave me a free house to live in the last thing I would do is complain about it. It is our individual responsibility as humans to adapt and over come no whining!

    July 2, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  38. chuck

    are all the travel trailers made the same way?

    July 2, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  39. Carolyn

    I am apalled to hear oil spill workers are being provided with FEMA trailers that are unsafe due to formaldyhyde. These trailers need to be dumped, destroyed.

    I also want to thank you, Kyra, for the positive news you gave us about the man working to clean up the environment.
    We really need to hear and do benefit from positive news...I think people would start watching news again if it weren't all so terribly negative. I do think the media thinks we WANT to hear all the negatives and nothing else. Not me. I and many others I know have deliberately scaled back on watching the news.

    July 2, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  40. Thomas Taylor

    I am really sick
    of living in a hyper-litigious society.
    Can't you see we have a big problem here.

    July 2, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  41. Barbara

    Larry and I was going to buy a trailer before we found out that it was used on the gulf coast in LA and yes it is a fama trailer. Serveral travel trailers are popping up for sale cheap all over TX. We have found them in Tyler, Austin and surrounding area. One sales man said that he was moving out of his Tyler location and taking them to San Antonio, TX. Buyer beware!

    July 2, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  42. Joyce Koerfer

    So,,,,,workers have no place to stay yet the government wants to house them in toxic trailers.

    Uh...aren't there a whole big bunch of UNOCCUPIED HOTELS right now in the area? How about put the workers there and pick up the tab, which would help the hotels and workers, and more importantly, keep the workers safe and sound??

    What part of this is hard to understand??

    Joyce in Roxboro, NC

    July 2, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  43. Michele

    This story bothers me in many ways......why were these trailers not destroyed so that they could not be used again, and why were they purchased for the relief workers. Would it not have been a better thing to house the workers in the hotels and motels in the area to help them out financially and keep people working?

    July 2, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  44. Pam

    Why don't they stop the selling of the FEMA Trailers. I know of car dealers here in my home town that are buying them and resale them to the public and not advising them of the dangers.

    July 2, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  45. Doug Driskell

    Most new construction will off-gas toxic vapors for a period of time due to materials commonly in use today. If you've ever experienced the new car or new carpet smell you've experienced this kind of off-gassing. Those trailers, which were built just after Katrina, should have completed their off-gassing period long ago. Were they tested again before being put into use?

    July 2, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  46. Brent R Babcock

    Kyra: I have been following your FEMA trailer formeldehyde issue. I am a retired design engineer who is somewhat familiar with environmental issues with buildings. The off-gassing of any building material (or furnishings) has a "decay" curve, which is to say that concentrations of contaminants may be high at construction, but decay to much more acceptable levels with time. Perhaps the best way to determine whether this is an issue or not is to "test" at this time for formeldehyde concentration levels and not grab onto this as a problem unless tests confirm it to be the case. Verify, not sensationalize.

    Thank you

    July 2, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  47. Marshall Boone

    I can't believe on top of everything else our neighbors have had to endure, now the federal goverment sends trailers to people who are trying to clean up the oily mess BP has made down there and they are not safe to breathe the air in. Mr. Obama has no concept of managing
    or finding anybody else in his surroundings that knows what to do or ask. Mr. Obama has sat on his hands and whined about how everyone else is at fault. I'm from the North Carolina coast and actually lived on the water half my life and I'm furious at what he has not done! This spill has not only caused so many people their livelyhood but has badly upset nature's balance on America's Gulf shores all the way over to Florida. How dare him and his federal government! This is the way all of us feel who have ever actually lived on the coast.

    July 2, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
  48. Stephanie

    One of our employees recently moved into a 3 bedroom trailer paying a monthly rent of $600. On the outside steps to the trailer it has the words FEMA on it. My husband and I though for sure it would be dump b/c you cannot even find a one bedroom in the worst part of town for $600/month let alone a 3 bedroom. The trailer is actually in decent shape and our worker was told it was a 2008 model. My husband and I started doing some research on this too good to be true rent price and came across this story and many other on the internet stating unhealthy breathing conditions. I dont know how to find out if this trailer our employee is living in is effected? How do I know if it's really a 2008 model? How do I know what Hurricane it was used in? I am very concerned for his family b/c he does have two small children. HELP!

    July 7, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
  49. JOY

    I have just read about this story and found out from my neighbors that the trailors that have been coming into our trailor court here in Illinois is some of the FEMA trailors and some of them still have the black mold inside them and the outside of these trailors look just as bad!! I can not believe that this is allowed to go on. What is a person in small town USA supposed to do!!
    I know our problems here are far less than what the people in the gulf are going thru now and my heart goes out to all in the gulf and bless those who are cleaning this huge mess up!!

    July 8, 2010 at 6:04 am |