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How to Remove Formaldehyde From FEMA Travel Trailers

Formaldehyde, a colorless carcinogenic gas, is normally present in composite wood, carpeting, paint, adhesives, insulation, particleboard and other construction materials. So it's no surprise that mass-produced Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers are full of the noxious irritating substance. Although victims of natural disasters were housed in FEMA trailers before Hurricane Katrina in 2006, the trailers were mass produced in great haste to house people evicted by Katrina's flooding on the Gulf of Mexico coastline after that disaster. The building materials readily exhaled the formaldehyde gas in a process called "out-gassing," and the damp, warm conditions supported the growth of mold that exacerbated the air contamination. The trailers quickly became uninhabitable to many dwellers. There are at least methods to speed up the out-gassing process, although living in the trailers was challenging to those especially sensitive to the environmental conditions.

Composite wood needs time to exhale its formaldehyde content.

Step 1

Open all the windows and doors. Let the air circulate as much as possible. This stops the formaldehyde gas from collecting, lessening its potency.

Step 2

Turn the air conditioning on high speed, if it's too hot to keep doors and windows open. Again, this will minimize the concentration of the noxious gas.

Step 3

Buy six Boston ferns and distribute them throughout the trailer. According to NASA tests, one Boston fern is capable of removing 1,863 micrograms of formaldehyde per hour. If you cannot afford to buy the plants, you can get them for free from Common Ground Bioremediation.

Step 4

Heat the trailer to 80 degrees or more when no one is home for several hours. Then open all the doors and windows to thoroughly ventilate the space. This "baking out" speeds the out-gassing process. Repeat daily for up to a week. Depending on the weather, air condition when you are home to minimize the out-gassing. It hot areas, just leaving the trailer shut up during the day will likely constitute a baking out.

Things You Will Need

  • Boston Fern houseplants

Warning

  • Take pets and plants out of the trailer before "baking out" the trailer.

About the Author

Fran Henry's writing career began in 1989 at the "Plain Dealer" in Cleveland, OH. In 2003, the Associated Press Society recognized her as one of Ohio's best feature writers and in 2004 honored her for a series about large-scale dairy farming. She holds a Bachelor of Arts journalism degree from Kent State University and a Master of Science in urban studies from Cleveland State University.

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