FEMA has instructed Katrina victims to ventilate their trailers, but there have been no warnings about formaldehyde posted on the Government Services Agency Web site that advertises trailers sold to the general public.
"I don't know how they can auction off these trailers," said Jerry Parker of the New York law firm Parker, Waichman and Alonso, which is representing 1,800 litigants in a class action suit. "It's like selling a house that you know has radon gas or termites. They are homes, and they require full disclosure."
"Everyone was asleep at the switch," said Parker. "They wanted to save a few dollars and make some extra money."
While formaldehyde is highly toxic, the fumes do subside, according to Ball State's Godish, who "felt like the Maytag repairman" after the lawsuits of the 1980s were resolved and calls for his expertise stopped.
But today with globalization, manufacturers have once again begun to import cheaper materials from South Asia and China, said Godish. The formaldehyde out-gassing is also exacerbated by mold and humidity, classic problems in cheaply constructed RVs, he said.
Though Godish believes most RVs today are safe, he cautions that in the mobile home and RV industry, "quality control has never been a major priority."
"The manufacturers know the people who buy RVs: The first summer they use it for six weeks; the second summer for two weeks; the fourth summer it's sitting in the yard and the fifth summer it's up for sale," he said.
"The chances are very high that they slipped it by the health authorities," said Godish. "Nobody thinks a $50,000 or $100,000 RV can make them sick, but it does happen."