WASHINGTON - Manufacturers say they are not responsible for the Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers that had toxic levels of formaldehyde, despite Democrats' findings that companies knew of the dangers yet sold them to the government anyway after Hurricane Katrina.
The report by Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is at odds with an analysis by Republican staff members on the same committee. The Republican report backs the companies and found that trailer manufacturers should not be held accountable for the high levels of formaldehyde - a preservative commonly used in building materials - in trailers that FEMA set up to house people displaced by Katrina in 2005. Republicans say it is the government's fault for not having standards for safe levels of formaldehyde in trailers.
But Democrats say their staff interviewed employees from one of the manufacturers, Gulf Stream Coach, who said they, too, were suffering effects from formaldehyde exposure, including nose bleeds, shortness of breath, dizziness, and bleeding ears.
Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and committee chairman, said the Democrats' investigation found that Gulf Stream tested the trailers, but treated the results as a public relations liability instead of a health hazard.
"It found pervasive formaldehyde contamination in its trailers, and it didn't tell anyone," Waxman said yesterday.
Jim Shea, chairman of Gulf Stream, said there was no actual testing of trailers. Instead, there was informal screening with a Formaldemeter, which is not a scientific test.
Shea said, however, that his company asked FEMA in 2006 whether it should test the trailers, but FEMA said no.
Last year, scientists tested hundreds of FEMA trailers and found potentially dangerous levels of formaldehyde.
There is no government standard for the amount of formaldehyde in travel trailers. Standards are set for indoor air quality for materials used to build mobile homes, but not travel trailers. Katrina victims now occupy 15,000 travel trailers in the Gulf Coast, down from the more than 143,000 trailers that once housed victims.