WLOX Investigation Questions Formaldehyde Levels In Mississippi Cottages - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

WLOX Investigation Questions Formaldehyde Levels In Mississippi Cottages

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- The dangerous levels of formaldehyde found in FEMA trailers prompted an order from Congress for FEMA to get Katrina victims out of the trailers into safer living conditions. The Mississippi cottages were the answer, and so far few people have complained of the terrible health problems many they experienced in trailers.

But Sierra Club members say recent tests conducted by their organization found unacceptable formaldehyde levels in some cottages.

"Getting a Katrina Cottage is like moving from a shed to a castle. Really is. Because the appliances are bigger, the material, the workmanship much better," Dr. Lou Finkle said.

Dr. Finkle of Gulfport was thrilled to get his cottage after living in a FEMA trailer. Like hundreds of others, Finkle says trailer life impacted his health.

"At that time, I had been in it for about nine months. And even though the windows were open on good days... they tested the formaldehyde and it read 2.8 times the maximum exposure level for any one hour period of time."

Finkle hoped his formaldehyde problems were over, but began to suspect his cottage could be contaminated too. He contacted the environmental group, The Sierra Club.

"The main source of the formaldehye is particle board, and if you look at these cabinets, it looks like this is a veneer with particle board underneath," Becky Gilette with The Sierra Club said.

Gilette had vapor tests done on two cottages, including Finkle's. They found a formaldhyde level below the EPA's maximum, but above recommended levels if you're going to be inside the cottage more than two weeks.

"If you're going to stay in here for more than a year, then it becomes about nine times the amount of formaldehyde," Finkle said. 

To find out if other people living in cottages had any formaldehyde issues, WLOX Action Reporter AJ Giardina went to Cedar Street in Biloxi, where he met Jim DeSilvery.

"Oh, it's a much improvement. In the FEMA trailer, I couldn't breath in there. I had to have a window open next to me so I could sleep. Otherwise, I would cough all night long. Now, here, I can button this thing up. I don't have that problem anymore," DeSilvery said.

WLOX offered to test DeSilvery's cottage and two of his neighbors' cottages for the presence of formaldehyde.

"The problem is there's no safe level of exposure to formaldehyde. So we really don't need any. And to kind of put this into perspective, right now FEMA says the new housing it's going to buy is to be 0.16 parts per million, which is about ten times lower then that one parts per million," Gilette said.

Advanced Chemical Sensors in Boca Raton, Florida provided the test kits for the Sierra Club and us, and sent them back to find out the formaldehyde levels.

"Three of the five Mississippi Cottages tested came in over one parts per million, which is a standard that should be like the maximum you're exposed to," Gilette said.

The other two tests came in below the EPA's short term exposure limits, but above long term maximums.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency manages the cottage program. MEMA's Lea Stokes questioned the testing done by us and the Sierra Club.

Stokes said MEMA did not have formaldehyde testing done on the cottages before they went into service, but said testing will begin in the coming weeks.

Stokes told WLOX News, "If there is a need to increase the safety of the air quality in the Mississippi cottages, we want to do so."

By AJ Giardina

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