Minimizing The Formaldehyde Danger In Your MEMA Cottage

HARRISON COUNTY (WLOX) -- Close to 2,000 cottages have now replaced FEMA trailers in Mississippi. But the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is just now beginning to test the temporary homes for formaldehyde.

WLOX News and the Sierra Club recently conducted our own test on several cottages and found formaldehyde levels exceeding the EPA's maximum amount for long term exposure, but lower than the levels in FEMA travel trailers. For some people, even a little exposure to formaldehyde can mean breathing and other health problems.

Corky Hire and his wife have been living in their Mississippi Cottage for four months, and say they love it.

When asked how it compared to his old FEMA trailer, Hire said, "Oh hell, you've got room, you can relax. You know, lots more room. Much better. Lots better, lots, lots."

With Hire's permission, we tested the formaldehyde level in his two bedroom cottage with a kit from Advanced Chemical Sensors in Florida. WLOX News also tested two more cottages, while the Sierra Club tested two others.

"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," said Becky Gillette with the Sierra Club.

Gillette is a Sierra Club activist and former coast resident who has taken up the formaldehyde cause.

"If you consider long term exposure, there are actually much longer recommendations about what's safe for long term exposure. And for example, the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry has a level of .04 parts per million for one to 14 days of exposure. All of our tests were above that," Gillette said.

Dr. Lou Finkle doesn't want a repeat of the formaldehyde problems he had living in his FEMA trailer.

"I'm a little anxious about it," Finkle said. "I try to take all the precautions, as much as possible. For example, there are a lot of nights I don't stay in here. I have a camper out in the country that I stay in sometimes, particularly on weekends and all. In other times, in good weather like this, I keep my door open. So that it gives me some ventilation through here."

Becky Gillette says that's the right thing to do.

"Cracking your window or leaving it open at night if it's cool enough, and keeping your ceiling fan on. And keep the air conditioning on too, because if it gets too hot and humid in here, then it will increase the amount of formaldehyde gas," Gillette said.

As important as ventilation is, there's at least one vent not working in Finkle's cottage.

"They have a vent in the bathroom," Finkle said. "The problem is they put the vent and the fan motor in there, but then they threw the insulation on top and there's no vent out."

Becky Gillette believes the government could fix the air quality problems by installing air purification systems in the Mississippi cottages.

"The government has invested so much money, it would be a drop in the bucket to spend another $400-$600 to fit these units with decent air purification systems," Gillette said.

"They are a lot cuter, they are a lot safer, but they still have the formaldehyde problem. And that needs to be fixed because that could cause, not just short term, but long term health problems."

Becky Gillette says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is testing different air filtration systems that could be used in Mississippi Cottages and FEMA travel trailers.

By the way, a spokesperson at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told WLOX News that the CDC has not tested any cottages, nor has it issued any formaldehyde guideline levels specifically for Mississippi cottages.

The Mississippi Emergency management agency told us the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will conduct formaldehyde testing on cottages, but no timetable has been set.