Judge to FEMA Trailer Manufacturers: Pay Up

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.

New Orleans

image via Shutterstock

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.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

1 Comment

  • Reply October 15, 2012

    Kurt Klingbeil

    I read somewhere that one of the first brain functions to be affected by formaldehyde is the mathematical computation centre.
    This article exhibits many classic signs…
    42.6 – 20.5 = 37.5? more like 22.1
    $22,100,000 / 55,000 = $4,020 ? more like $401.82

    Maybe those are the lawyers’ numbers…

    This also demonstrates the bizarre state of the legal system

    Right off the top, the manufacturers are in breach of their contracts to
    supply inhabitable housing units. – Repair or replace all the units.
    For the harm caused by their negligence and breach of contract,
    provide each of the affected people with full comprehensive health care
    until all of their symptoms are fully healed – plus one year.
    Were all of those contracts let out as per standard GSA guidelines to bona fide
    suppliers or to the shell-corps of the Hell.b.rton ilk?
    In class actions, with real injured parties, Attorney fees must be limited to
    10% or 20% at the very most.

    Is it not unprofessional and disreputable and unethical conduct on the part of a judge to simultaneously find the defendants guilty and liable, and to let them off the hook at 1-cent-on-the-collar?

Leave a Reply