In June of 2006 I first started hearing about the possibility of formaldehyde in FEMA travel trailers housing hundreds of thousands of Katrina victims in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.  When the initial reports started surfacing, they were of course totally rejected by FEMA as well as all agencies charged with the oversight of these deathtraps people were living in.

During the long and hot summer of 2006, more and more people who were exposed to various chemicals in the Katrina flood waters began suffering horrible skin problems.  People who had continued living in water damaged homes began to suffer from mysterious breathing problems.  People who had been confined to FEMA travel trailers were complaining of headaches and other strange symptoms.  All these physical complaints were basically ignored and the people suffering them were more or less told they were “hypochondriacs”.

By the summer of 2007, the initial symptoms reported by many had progressed to the point of death or hospital confinement.  Indeed, it was revealed that toxic chemicals had been in Katrina’s flood waters and anyone exposed to them who had not received a special “bath” soon afterwards was seeing their skin pretty much disintegrate.  Those who had initially torn into flood damaged dwellings without proper protection, were being diagnosed with black mold related illnesses.  There is no “cure” for this, only treatment of symptoms.

Last summer, more and more of the unfortunate people still confined to FEMA travel trailers were getting sick.  A movement was launched to get Congress to deal with the problem.  Many people had their trailers independently tested for formaldehyde and the results were staggering.  Readings five to ten times above “safe” levels were common and readings far higher were found also.  Still, nothing was being done to solve the problem except denying it existed.

Just yesterday, the following article was filed by an Associated Press writer dealing with FEMA’s sudden reversal of policy regarding these trailers.  Here is the link to the story:


The people of the United States of America want the Federal Government to take care of them from the time they are born until the day they die.  They want Federal assistance for everything from health insurance to house repairs after a storm.  Because the people want the government to provide help, they are going to receive it, even if it kills them. 

Katrina was an unprecedented disaster.  The sheer numbers of people who lost their homes was beyond the scope of anybody’s ability to plan for such a thing.  FEMA should have been prepared and they were not.  The states involved should have been prepared and they were not.  The large charities should have been prepared and they were not.  Due to lack of preparation, confusion ruled and where there is confusion there is every form of evil taking advantage of it.

In the two and one years since the Katrina/Rita/Wilma disasters in 2005, much has been done on all levels to better prepare for future disasters.  Most of what has been hammered out is now in a document nobody has ever heard of unless they are involved in disaster relief work.  There is now a National Disaster Response Plan in place that pretty much spells out exactly what is to take place when a huge disaster strikes.  Obviously, if another Katrina hit, there would not be the confusion and tardiness in action started as there was in 2005.

Still, considering that this plan is squarely in the hands of FEMA, one has to wonder how well it would work and whether situations such as formaldehyde in trailers would be ignored for years.  FEMA did not make a lot of friends in Katrina devastated areas.  Constantly changing policy, mismanagement, fraud and confusion of all kinds turned a huge disaster into a catastrophic nightmare.  Perhaps never in the history of this great land was a more shortsighted and irresponsible plan ever hatched than to order travel trailer manufacturers to cut corners and build trailers as fast as possible disregarding health risks, electric and plumbing codes and even structural guidelines. 

The trailers were built in record time.  Thousands of people were herded out of motels and cruise ships into these trailers which ended up many times in FEMA trailer parks.  That was just about it as far as the government was concerned.  Due to labor and material shortages, the repair and rebuilding of homes took well over a year to really begin to make a dent in the numbers of families living in trailers.  All the while, as it turns out, these poor people were daily being exposed to chemicals that were destroying their health.  So what, that they had survived the storm, their lives turned into a living hell in every possible category.

I personally know many sick people who until recently were doomed to living in these deathtraps.  Their only other option was to move back into a mold infested house that was probably unsafe to live in.  Let me very clear here; there are health concerns raging all along the Gulf Coast that no one in the country knows about.  The upturn in heart and lung issues is beyond the point of being alarming.  The mental health issues are so huge that the system to treat them is overwhelmed. 

Some physical issues take time to show their symptoms, while others appear quickly.  The horrific symptoms of mold take quite awhile to become manifested.  Once there, the road to recovery is long and painful.  Ask anyone who has had to deal with mold in their lungs how pleasant the situation is.  There are thousands upon thousands of very sick people in Katrina damaged areas.  The vast majority of these people do not know what is making them sick, nor do they have the means to get treatment.

Those who have been exposed to formaldehyde poisoning should receive complete treatment and a dwelling free from toxic chemicals, at the very least.  But, just as those exposed to “agent orange” found out; the government is not very quick to clean up after its messes.  Due to the sheer numbers of people involved, those who claim to have medical conditions related to formaldehyde in FEMA trailers will probably end up waiting in long lines, then arguing with insensitive agents and put on a list that will take months if not years to bring to full resolution.  Meanwhile, they will be miserable, dejected and many will simply give in and give up.  Is that what the authorities really are wanting?

If any major investigative reporting agency ever really took the time to dig under the surface of supposed progress in the states affected by Katrina; they would quickly find issues that should be at the forefront of political campaigns instead of the meaningless ones that get all the headlines.  There never was much love for the Federal Government down in Katrina land, but after this FEMA travel trailer fiasco, Montana might have another area of the country barking at its heels as far as extreme dislike for the “Feds”.

My earnest prayer is that those in the legal and medical fields will respond to the needs in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and provide free help to thousands of hurting people.  I pray that those trained in mental health will continue to volunteer to deal with the effects of a disaster that lingers on and on for many.  I pray that as a nation, we never forget that although much has been done to repair and rebuild homes and businesses; the rebuilding of people’s lives lags far behind.

For more information on the current state of things down “on the coast”, please go my website at:

www.heart2heartshare.com  and go to the “Sharing Partners” tab and follow the link to “Tri Coastal Community Outreach”.  Please get in touch with this wonderful group and they have ways to get you in touch with whomever you would need to talk to.

Please America, do not forget that the area which provided the nation with its most horrific natural disaster is even now reeling from an even bigger disaster; dealing with yet more fallout from poor decisions made after the storm.  I pray we do all we can to help those who are at this very moment sick, depressed and feeling forsaken. 



  1. 1 George Zalai
    February 16, 2008 at 6:32 am

    I have read your article with compassion and I feel for those suffering but …

    I have a suggestion: Instead waisting more taxpayer’s money, first ventillate the trailers! Most product made of chipboard has Urea-Formaldehyde in it. If it is kept in a sealed enclosure (meaning no ventillation) will have increased amounts of fumes accumulating. Just smell the inside of ANY new office furniture near you, especially the closed compartments of drawers, you will feel the stinging, choking smell of it. Besides, look at any chipboard (which is the most common material for furniture, paneling, kitchen counters, etc. in homes and trailers) the under-side of the panels will have a warning printed on it: “Contains Urea-Formaldehyde and/or use in a well ventillatad area” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out, if we keep those materials in an enclosed area, it will stink!

    I don’t think the trailers were kept open and ventillated BEFORE use, therefore they need to, until the levels drop to an acceptable level. It is just common sense. Instead accusing someone for the high levels of the fumes, we should use common sense to alleviate it (air it out) Put a few fans in and keep windows open (also put security guards, to protect the units from vandals)

    Sincerely, George Zalai, a concerned citizen. (And I have no connection to the manufacturers)

  2. February 16, 2008 at 7:44 am

    To clear up any confusion; all the good ideas mentioned above were tried along with high powered HEPA air filters. The problem was it took well over a year for anyone to figure out what was wrong. By then the damage was done. As the article states; FEMA is quickly getting rid of these trailers and plans to use the small trailers no more. Some lessons are very difficult to learn.

  3. 3 Chris
    February 16, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Might I point out that new mobile homes also have a warning to ventilate and that certain materials used in the manufacture may be toxic to some individuals. That was what I was told while shopping for a new mobile home several years ago and that is one of the reasons new manufactured homes have ventilation fans built in to them. The other is that new mobile homes are built air tight.

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