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    CDC Takes Action on Indoor Air Quality-Related Health Concerns of Displaced Gulf Coast Residents

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided either mobile homes or travel trailers to displaced Gulf Coast residents who had lost their homes in the hurricane. Residents of these trailers and mobile homes have raised concerns about air quality in the trailers and the occurrence of respiratory and other symptoms resulting from exposure to formaldehyde or other respiratory irritants among residents of the mobile homes. CDC has been working with FEMA to investigate the health concerns of those living in the trailers and mobile homes and to take action to protect residents’ health.

    Preliminary Formaldehyde Testing Results Released

    On February 14, 2008, CDC released preliminary results from testing that found higher-than-typical indoor levels of formaldehyde in the travel trailers and mobile homes. For more on the preliminary test results, go to CDC Releases Results of Formaldehyde Level Tests.

    A team composed of a U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps officer and a FEMA representative notified study participants of the results in February 2008, with personal visits and a hand-delivered letter. The Commissioned Corps took on this work at the request of CDC.

    To directly address the concerns of other interested individuals regarding formaldehyde exposure, CDC representatives were available at 15 public meetings held in Louisiana February 25-28 and in Mississippi March 3-6, 2008. Over 900 individuals attended these events.

    Other Related Public Health Activities

    In addition to testing for indoor air levels of formaldehyde, CDC’s public health activities include:

    • Reconvening a panel of experts to identify and advise on health issues that could be associated with long-term residence in temporary housing units, such as travel trailers.
    • Assessing formaldehyde levels across different models and types of unoccupied trailers to identify the factors that reduce or heighten those levels. This assessment also involves identifying cost-effective ways to reduce or lower formaldehyde levels and concentrations in temporary housing environments
    • Planning a long-term study of children who resided in FEMA trailers and mobile homes in Mississippi and Louisiana.

    What Is Formaldehyde?

    Formaldehyde is a common chemical in our environment. Sources of formaldehyde in the environment may include:

    • Household sources, such as fiberglass, carpets, permanent press fabrics, paper products, and some household cleaners,
    • Manufactured wood products used in new mobile homes,
    • Cigarettes and other tobacco products, gas cookers, and open fireplaces,
    • Smog

    Exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. It is possible that people with asthma may be more sensitive to the effects of inhaled formaldehyde.

    For Assistance

    People living in FEMA trailers who are concerned about the level of formaldehyde in their trailers and the possible health risks of contact with formaldehyde should seek appropriate assistance.

    • For concerns about conditions in your trailer, contact FEMA at 1-866-562-2381 (TTY 1-800-462-7585).
    • For concerns about medical problems that you think may be related to the trailer, talk to a doctor or other medical professional.

    Page last reviewed: July 2, 2008
    Page last updated: July 2, 2008
    Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health