Out of the 519 units that the CDC tested, an average level of 77 parts per billion (ppb) of formaldehyde was found. Technically this means that every one billion parts of air contained 77 parts of formaldehyde. Using an online conversion program, 77 ppb converts to 0.077 ppm. The highest level of formaldehyde reported was 590 ppb, or 0.59 ppm.
In order to determine if these levels are detrimental to occupant health, we must take into consideration the amount of time that a person actually spends inside the unit. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has set the following Indoor Reference Exposure Limits (IREL) to identify harmful limits of formaldehyde exposure relevant to the duration of exposure. For an eight-hour period, the OEHHA has set an indoor reference level of 27 ppb. This means that building occupants should not experience ill health effects, such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, from exposure to formaldehyde levels below 27 ppb provided exposure does not exceed an eight-hour period, according to the California Air Resources Board. Twenty-seven ppb converts to 0.027 ppm.
Lee Ann Billings, 865-963-6758, email@example.com
Thad Godish, PhD, CIH, who is a professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at Ball State University and directs the university’s indoor air quality/indoor environmental research program, concurs that below 27 ppb may be a feasibly safe level of formaldehyde exposure. He states in MOLD: The War Within, a book on the health effects of Katrina authored by Katrina evacuees Kurt and Lee Ann Billings, “Studies by Australian scientists have shown adverse physiological reactions even at 0.05 ppm.” The Billings report, “Because of the findings of these studies, Dr. Godish cites 0.03 ppm as a ‘feasibly safe level’ of airborne formaldehyde.”
But what if a person occupies a building for longer than an eight-hour period of time? According to the OEHHA, in order to protect against irritation to the eyes and upper and lower respiratory systems, chronic formaldehyde exposure limits must be below 2.4 ppb. For this reason, the OEHHA has set a Chronic Reference Exposure Level for formaldehyde at 2.4 ppb. Exposure is considered chronic anytime occupant exposure is continual or for an extended period of time on a regular basis. Elevated levels of formaldehyde in a living environment could result in chronic exposure. Also, exposure can occur from two different indoor locations. For example, a child could be being exposed to elevated levels of formaldehyde in both his/her living environment, such as in a FEMA trailer, and in his/her school, such as in a portable classroom. Both of these types of structures are susceptible to elevated levels of formaldehyde, which if that was the case, would result in near-continual exposure to elevated levels of formaldehyde for the child.
In addressing acute levels of formaldehyde exposure, the OEHHA has toxicologically determined that eye irritation occurs at a one-hour exposure of 75 ppb. For this reason, the OEHHA has set an acute REL at 75 ppb. This means that it is physiologically proven that occupants will begin to experience negative health effects after one-hour of exposure to formaldehyde at 75 ppb. The average level detected by the CDC in the FEMA trailers and mobile homes was 77 ppb.
Based on the OEHHA reference exposure limits, FEMA trailers with just the average formaldehyde level of 77 ppb should not have been occupied for over a one-hour period, let alone used as a source of continual living space. Science justifies formaldehyde victims’ concerns regarding long-term health risks from exposure to elevated levels of formaldehyde in the FEMA trailers and mobile homes.
The director of the CDC, Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH, who is also the Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), led the press conference at which the FEMA trailer formaldehyde levels were released. She addressed the possibility of long-term health effects from exposure to the elevated levels of formaldehyde in the FEMA trailers, “With formaldehyde, the degree of risk from chronic exposure is still somewhat uncertain, but it is classified as a carcinogen, and we do want to be sensitive to the fact that people who spend a lot of time in their trailers could be at risk for cumulative exposure effects.”
In order to determine if evacuees housed in the FEMA trailers have negative health effects as a result of the formaldehyde exposure, Dr. Gerberding states that the CDC and FEMA will be working together to create a registry of the FEMA trailer and mobile home occupants so their health concerns can be assessed and to determine causality of symptoms. For more information on the health effects of formaldehyde exposure, people can call the CDC’s hotline, 1-800-CDCINFO, or refer to the book, MOLD: The War Within, which also documents avenues of detoxification and health restoration by leading experts in science, medicine, and nutrition such as Jia-Sheng Wang, MD, PhD, David Eaton, PhD, Regina Santella, PhD, and Udo Erasmus, PhD. For more information, see www.moldsolutions.info