Louisiana hurricane survivors have sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency for stalling the enforcement of rules governing formaldehyde.
The issue hits close to home for the New Orleans-based group A Community Voice because formaldehyde was used in building FEMA trailers deployed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
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"Formaldehyde is so dangerous for our health that A Community Voice is fighting to have it regulated more, not less," the organization's secretary-treasurer Debra Campbell wrote in a statement.
"We believe that many of us have had harms to our health due to living in FEMA trailers after Hurricane Katrina ... We need more regulations of toxins, not less."
Formaldehyde is used to treat wood products and is also found in glues, paints, pesticides, cosmetics, detergents and cigarette smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Small amounts irritate the eyes, skin and airways, while larger doses have been linked to nose and throat cancers. The young, old and people with breathing problems are most sensitive.
While plaintiffs have drawn a connection between formaldehyde and FEMA, the agency has switched to different housing options since 2005, according to Louisiana Manufactured Housing Association Executive Director Steve Duke.
Much of the equipment deployed after Katrina and Rita was comparable to recreational vehicles. Now, FEMA uses very different manufactured homes that have to comply with standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Now, FEMA uses structures that are designed to be used long-term, not just for an occasional vacation trip, Duke said.
The new EPA rule would govern all types of formaldehyde use, from lumber wholesalers to furniture manufacturers.
The EPA was scheduled to enforce higher standards beginning next month, but announced in September it would push the compliance date to December 2018.
A Community Voice and the Sierra Club, represented by lawyers from Earthjustice, this week filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, asking the judiciary to compel the EPA to enforce the standard on schedule.
"EPA acted in blatant disregard of the Formaldehyde Act, Congress's intent to put the standards in place expeditiously in order to protect public health," in particular the health of children who are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of the chemical, plaintiffs wrote in a court document.
The agency defended the extension when it was announced, saying that industry needs more time to adapt to the new standards.
"EPA believes that extension of these compliance dates and the transitional period ... adds needed regulatory flexibility for regulated entities, reduces compliance burdens, and helps to prevent disruptions to supply chains while still ensuring that compliant composite wood products enter the supply chain in a timely manner," they wrote.
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