May 5th, 2007 07:12 EST
Ventilating Travel Trailers Can Significantly Reduce Formaldehyde Emission Levels
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said today that its study of air samples collected from travel trailers in the Gulf shows that formaldehyde emission levels in the units can be significantly reduced through adequate ventilation.
FEMA initiated the study in response to concerns expressed about formaldehyde in the trailers and because of the high number of the units used as temporary housing following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The objective of the study was to validate the most effective measures for lowering formaldehyde concentrations in travel trailers.
Formaldehyde is a common substance that is found in homes and buildings everywhere. It is released into the air from many household products, new permanent pressed clothing, tobacco products and cigarette smoke and construction materials as well as other sources. The most significant sources of formaldehyde in travel trailers are the pressed wood products used in flooring, cabinetry and wallboard.
The study involved collecting air samples from 96 new, unused travel trailers from Sept. 19 to Oct. 7, 2006, at a staging area in Baton Rouge, La. Only previously unoccupied trailers were tested in order to eliminate any effects from human activities that might cause formaldehyde levels to rise. The units tested had been closed for approximately six weeks before the sampling. The air sampling data was analyzed for FEMA by the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in Atlanta, Ga.
The baseline for concentrations of formaldehyde in the units averaged 1.2 ppm (parts per million) at the beginning of the test. Samples were collected from two different groups of trailers, each using a different method of ventilation. One group was ventilated by opening windows and vents, while for the second group, ventilation was provided using the air conditioning system with open static vents in the bathroom. Samples were taken at different times of the day. Ambient outdoor samples also were taken concurrently with the collection of the samples in the trailers.
According to the evaluation report provided to FEMA by ATSDR, the average concentration of formaldehyde per day in the units using open window ventilation dropped below 0.3 ppm after four days of ventilation and remained low for the rest of the test period. Average, per-day levels in the test group of trailers using air conditioning only with one open static vent in the bathroom remained above 0.3 ppm for all but two days of the test period. The level for health concerns for sensitive individuals was referenced by ATSDR at 0.3 ppm and above.
Early Steps Taken
In early 2006, FEMA established procedures for replacing units if the occupants were experiencing problems because of heightened sensitivity to formaldehyde. Out of more than 110,000 travel trailers used as temporary housing in the Gulf, approximately 70 had been replaced by the end of last year because of formaldehyde concerns – 20 in Louisiana and 50 in Mississippi.
Study design and testing project planning were initiated in July 2006.
Also in July 2006, FEMA distributed information to trailer occupants across the Gulf Coast explaining how those persons sensitive to formaldehyde may be affected by its presence and spelling out specific actions that should be taken to ventilate the units. The advice, which was validated by the study, involved urging occupants to take the following steps:
- Increase ventilation. Open the windows and door of the trailer and use fans to force stale air out and bring fresh air in.
- Keep indoor temperatures cool. Heat does cause formaldehyde to increase the rate at which it releases fumes, so, after the trailer is well ventilated, keep temperatures cooler with air conditioning,.
- Keep the humidity low. Like heat, humidity causes formaldehyde to release fumes, so keep the relative humidity in the trailer at about 40 to 50 percent.
- Do not smoke inside. Tobacco smoking releases formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals.
The brochures are being updated to recommend that occupants ventilate trailers thoroughly if they have been closed up for several days.
Based on the findings of the study, FEMA is moving forward with the following:
Establishing procedures for ventilating units currently in inventory;
Strengthening training for employees and contractors concerning the presence of formaldehyde and methods of reducing levels in travel trailers and park models;
Updating and standardizing communications to occupants regarding the presence of and methods for reducing formaldehyde in temporary housing units;
Formalizing procedures for responding to formaldehyde complaints from travel trailer occupants; and
- Working with manufacturers to reduce formaldehyde emitting materials in FEMA-purchased units.
The security and safety of all the residents of travel trailers deployed in the Gulf Coast states is of paramount importance to the agency. FEMA began working early in 2006 to identify ways to reduce formaldehyde levels in travel trailers. The intent of the study was to validate the most effective method for reducing the level of formaldehyde concentration in travel trailers.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates the federal government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ATSDR serves the public by using the best science, taking responsive public health actions, and providing trusted health information to prevent harmful exposures and diseases related to toxic substances.