A massive lawsuit has been filed naming the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which supplied hurricane victims in 2005 with about 120,000 travel trailers, and the manufacturers of the units as co-defendants. The suit charges that there were dangerous levels of formaldehyde in the units.
If the hurricane victims are successful, this suit could be on the level of other large-scale product liability suits such as the ones filed against manufacturers of asbestos and tobacco.
According to Letechia Acker, one of many plaintiffs in the suit, she hopes that a victory in court can buy a new home for her family to replace the one destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Acker said that her sons, especially the 2-year-old born the day after the family’s move into the trailer, have frequently had respiratory infections and upset stomachs. She asked FEMA to test the unit after discovering that it may have been formaldehyde in the trailer causing their illness.
However, Acker’s request, in addition to the requests of hundreds of other trailer residents, was declined by FEMA until e-mails were released by lawmakers last summer which showed that FEMA’s lawyers had advised them against testing to avoid liability.
FEMA then requested that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) test 519 trailers and mobile homes. They discovered that most of them had high levels of formaldehyde. FEMA has said that they are now honoring all testing requests.
According to attorneys representing the trailer residents, the CDC’s test results don’t show the full scope of the problem as they were conducted in December and January and when temperatures increase, formaldehyde levels rise.
Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent gas which many construction materials emit. A variety of symptoms including burning eyes, respiratory problems, and rashes, can be caused by the suspected carcinogen.