By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 8, 2007; 4:52 PM
NEW ORLEANS -- More than 500 hurricane survivors living in government-issued trailers and mobile homes are accusing the manufacturers of using inferior construction materials in a profit-driven rush to build them for the federal government.
Thousands of Louisiana residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 were exposed to dangerous levels of formaldehyde by living in the poorly constructed, government-issued trailers and mobile homes, alleges the federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday in New Orleans.
The lawsuit accuses 14 manufacturers that supplied the Federal Emergency Management Agency with trailers of cutting corners in order to quickly fill the shortage after the storms.
Messages left with several of those companies weren't immediately returned.
Several lawsuits have been filed in Louisiana that seek to certify class actions against FEMA trailer manufacturers on allegations that they jeopardized the health of occupants.
FEMA, which isn't named as a defendant in this latest suit, has agreed to have the air quality tested in some of the trailers. FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Formaldehyde, a common preservative and embalming fluid, sometimes is found in building materials that are used in manufactured homes. The chemical can cause respiratory problems and possibly cancer in high doses or with prolonged exposure.
Only 14,000 trailers were available when the federal government contracted to buy more than 100,000 units of temporary housing after Katrina and Rita, according to the lawsuit. To meet that demand, manufacturers set up assembly lines and produced trailers in as little as 10 minutes without the usual quality control, the suit alleges.
Anthony Buzbee, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the Louisiana residents are seeking monetary damages, though the lawsuit did not specify how much. The lawsuit also asks for an order requiring the companies to remove from the trailers all material containing formaldehyde, to modify the trailers for adequate ventilation and other remedies.