Tuesday, June 05, 2007



RV Business
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A rather in-depth report posted Monday (June 4) on the ABC News website alleges that building materials containing formaldehyde are being used in the RV industry and causing illness.

Last year, initial accusations by the Sierra Club were directed at RV builders involved in production of units sold to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for hurricane relief. But the environmental watchdog organization is now alleging that some units coming off dealers’ lots also have the potential – primarily under hot and humid conditions – to produce fumes exceeding accepted levels. The Sierra Club filed a class action suit last year involving several OEMS and now lawmakers are calling for an investigation.

The ABC News report partly focuses on a 57-year-old travel trailer owner from Mississippi who, along with his wife, reportedly began to experience burning sensations in his eyes in addition to splitting headaches and nosebleeds.

"I was real raspy, like a torch had gone down my throat," said Marvin Motes, a Navy quality control inspector who told ABC News that he had noticed strong fumes in his RV when the weather heated up. Motes and his wife had allegedly been exposed to formaldehyde, a potentially toxic chemical used as a glue in building materials, like particle board, that can "out-gas," or leak into the air, under hot, humid conditions,

“Formaldehyde can cause an array of upper respiratory symptoms, and trigger asthma and breathing problems, particularly in the elderly and young children,” ABC News relates. “As a record number of Americans hit the road in their campers this summer, they could face similar health risks, according to the Sierra Club, which has forged a national public awareness campaign.”

The report maintains that the RV industry may be using cheaper, formaldehyde-based materials – a practice that was outlawed in the U.S. more than 20 years ago. Since 1985, the federal government has set standards for the amount of formaldehyde that can leak from building materials in mobile homes, ABC observes, adding that it does not regulate travel trailers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) limits exposure in the workplace to up to .75 parts per million for an eight-hour day, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that at air levels of .10 or above, "acute health effects can occur." OSHA regulations say that formaldehyde is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen," and is sometimes associated with nasal and sinus cancer, ABC News stated.

"It's a nasty gas and is immediately recognizable," said air quality expert Thad Godish, a professor of environmental management at Indiana's Ball State University, who testified in consumer lawsuits in the 1980s.

Lawsuits, new regulations and the advent of safer home building materials halted the use of formaldehyde by the early 1990s, and RV manufacturers voluntarily complied, he said. But in 2006, the Sierra Club began receiving health complaints from displaced Hurricane Katrina victims who were living in “cheaply constructed” RVs provided by FEMA.

When the environmental group began testing the air quality, according to ABC News, it found 83% of the trailers tested had formaldehyde levels up to three times higher than the EPA limit. Reading that news, Motes contacted the Sierra Club, which provided him with two test kits. Instructed to close up and "bake off" his trailer with super heaters, then ventilate it for three days and retest, Motes allegedly discovered formaldehyde levels of .42 and .37.

While there are no tests for formaldehyde poisoning, Motes' doctor told him it was "highly suspected." When he attempted to return his RV, the dealership refused to acknowledge the problem, according to Motes. "They are stringing us along," said Motes, who is still paying off a 10-year loan at $300 a month. "I am not a happy camper."

His Alabama dealer reportedly did not return calls from ABC News.

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