For Immediate Release December 1, 2008
Contact: Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, (512) 477-2152
Sierra Club asks EPA: “Why No Formaldehyde Public Meetings on the Gulf Coast?”
Steps to Address Toxic Exposure Applauded, but More Public Input Needed
Washington, DC The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started taking steps to determine how to protect Americans from exposure to toxic formaldehyde, but the Sierra Club questions why none of the five scheduled public meetings is being held in areas where tens of thousands of Gulf Coast families were exposed to formaldehyde in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) housing.
“Sierra Club is calling on EPA to hold at least one of the formaldehyde meetings on the Gulf Coast, where people have been most impacted by the government’s failure to regulate formaldehyde emissions,” said Becky Gillette, Formaldehyde Campaign Director for Sierra Club. “While we applaud EPA for following through with its pledge to consider formaldehyde regulations, EPA needs to hear from the large numbers of people who were housed in FEMA trailers after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”
The EPA has announced its intention to investigate whether and what type of regulations might be appropriate to protect people from formaldehyde emitted from certain pressed wood products. Public meetings have been scheduled in January for Triangle Park, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; Chicago, Dallas, and Washington D.C.
“Many Gulf Coast residents have suffered short- and long-term health problems as a result of formaldehyde exposure,” Gillette said. “Surely EPA could hold one public meeting for Gulf Coast residents so it could hear about the impacts of formaldehyde directly from citizens.”
An estimated 140,000 families were housed in FEMA trailers, many of which had high levels of formaldehyde, and mainly along the Gulf Coast. After residents reported problems with burning eyes, coughing, headaches, rashes and breathing difficulties, Sierra Club began testing trailers in early 2006. The tests revealed high formaldehyde levels in about 90 percent of the trailers. FEMA denied the problem until Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) testing in early 2008 confirmed the high formaldehyde levels and FEMA made the decision to move trailer residents to other housing as soon as possible.
Lindsay Huckabee, a mother of five from Gulfport, Miss., whose children experienced numerous health problems resulting from formaldehyde exposure, said EPA should make the meetings more accessible for the people who have the most experience with formaldehyde exposure. “Most of the people here most affected don’t have the time or money to travel to these public meetings,” Huckabee said. “They would have a better turnout for the meetings down here because a lot of people know first hand the effects of formaldehyde exposure.”
Earlier this year Sierra Club petitioned EPA to adopt the California Air Resources Board (CARB) formaldehyde standards nationwide. The petition was signed by more than 5,000 people and 24 organizations. EPA’s response was to embark on rule making.
“There is already plenty of evidence that formaldehyde is a dangerous chemical, and that people need to be protected from it,” Gillette said. “Instead of delaying longer when this issue should have been addressed decades ago, EPA needs to move ahead quickly to protect the health of Americans.”
As the first organization to discover the toxicity of FEMA trailers, the Sierra Club has taken a lead role in fighting for better disaster assistance and emergency housing. As part of these efforts, the Sierra Club and a broad coalition of groups and citizens concerned about public health submitted a petition to the EPA, asking that the EPA adopt the more protective formaldehyde standards already in place in California and extend them to manufactured housing. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause watery eyes, headaches, depression, memory problems and cancer. People with existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and emphysema have an increased risk of reacting to formaldehyde, which can leach out from plywood, particleboard and fiberboard used in housing and furniture. The California standards dramatically reduce formaldehyde off-gassing.