A Bay St. Louis couple has discovered a dangerous problem with their FEMA trailer. And that problem could have widespread implications to the health of anyone living in one.
Paul and Melondy Stewart say tests show there's formaldehyde inside their trailer, at levels two times what is considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Formaldehyde is found in a lot of building materials and the couple believes the press board used inside the trailers is creating major problems for them.
After waiting for several months, Paul and Melondy Stewart were overjoyed to finally receive a FEMA trailer in December. But almost immediately that joy left them.
"When we first moved in here we had significant symptoms which continued til today. We had burning eyes, burning nose, scratchy throats, nasal headaches, that type of thing," Paul Stewart said.
Stewart is an active environmentalist and had heard of studies on problems with formaldehyde used in trailers. He asked FEMA to test his trailer.
When FEMA didn't respond, the Stewarts took matters into their own hands. They ordered a testing kit from a lab, that specializes in toxic chemicals.
"We got the test kit. We put it inside the camper, then sent it back to them. Then they analyzed the results. The results came back at over two times the EPA recommended level for formaldehyde gas inside a living quarters."
The results shocked the couple.
"Exposure to formaldehyde over the long term will cause lung cancer, nose cancer, throat cancer. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. It's listed as a carcinogen by the government and exposure of high levels of it can cause cancer."
The couple has tried everything to get rid of the fumes: opening windows and doors, even purchasing an industrial air purifier. But nothing seems to work.
Formaldehyde is often found in particle board, glues and adhesives in the cabinetry, bunk beds and bench seats of camper trailers.
"We decided to rip it out. We went down to Home Depot and got some real natural wood, some blank board to put in there," Melondy Stewart said.
"Our fear also is for the tens of thousands of other people across the Coast that has the exact same camper. And the long term implications are, you survive Katrina only for ten years down the road only to have throat cancer, nose cancer or some other kind of aliment," Paul Stewart said.
The Stewarts would like a trailer free of formaldehyde.
"We're doing everything we can to try and protect ourselves. And we're really trying to make the decision, do we sleep on our slab in a tent? Or do we risk our lives inside the camper?"
Information on the EPA's web site, confirms the problems with formaldehyde Mr. Stewart discovered. The EPA also says that formaldehyde odors are more of a problem in new construction made with particle board, like all the brand new FEMA trailers. And high temperatures and humidity also increase the problems.
FEMA's Public Information Officer Gene Romano told us, "Obviously some people are more sensitive then others. We will get in touch with the Stewarts to try and assist them with the problem."
He went on to say opening windows and doors should alleviate the odor.
Romano also told us if anyone suspects a serious problem to call the FEMA maintenance number at 1-866-877-6075.