The victims of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, by all accounts, went through some of the most harrowing circumstances imaginable in the wake of the two storms that ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005. Being sent to live in temporary housing that made them sick would have to be called adding insult to injury, at the very least. But that’s exactly what happened, according to a federal judge in New Orleans, La., who recently approved a class-action lawsuit’s settlement of $42.6 million for residents of temporary housing units that were distributed by the federal government to Hurricane Katrina victims.
The judge made this decision, in part, based on tests conducted on a number of such FEMA trailers in 2006 that revealed concentrations of formaldehyde of 0.34 parts per million (ppm); typically, formaldehyde is present in indoor and outdoor levels of less than 0.03 ppm. In 2008 hundreds of trailers were tested again, revealing formaldehyde levels that were on average five times the exposure amount acceptable in modern homes.
Formaldehyde is considered a cancer-causing substance by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. A common ingredient in building materials — pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard — it has also been implicated in Sick Building Syndrome.
After moving into FEMA trailers following Hurricane Katrina, residents reported various health effects, such as headaches, nosebleeds, and difficulty breathing.
Tens of thousands of these trailers had been trucked to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina and Rita, and now, over two dozen manufacturers will face fines to reach the total settlement of $42.6 million. Of the $42.6 million granted to victims, 48 percent ($20.5 million) will be granted to attorneys for various fees and costs, while the remaining $37.5 million will be divided equally among those 55,000 plaintiffs who got sick from the FEMA trailers.
That works out to roughly $4,020 per person — which seems like a small compensation, considering. But still, it’s a start.