Formaldehyde and Other Volatile Organic Chemical Emissions in Four FEMA Temporary Housing Units

TitleFormaldehyde and Other Volatile Organic Chemical Emissions in Four FEMA Temporary Housing Units
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsRandy L Maddalena, Marion L Russell, Douglas P Sullivan, Michael G Apte
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology

Four unoccupied FEMA temporary housing units (THUs) were studied to assess their indoor emissions of volatile organic compounds including formaldehyde. Measurement of whole-THUVOC and aldehyde emission factors (µg h-1 per m2 of floor area) for each of the four THUs were made at FEMA's Purvis MS staging yard using a mass balance approach. Measurements were made in the morning, and again in the afternoon in each THU. Steady-state indoor formaldehydeconcentrations ranged from 378 µg m-3 (0.31ppm) to 632 µg m-3 (0.52 ppm) in the AM, and from 433 µg m-3 (0.35 ppm) to 926 µg m-3 (0.78 ppm) in the PM. THU air exchange rates ranged from 0.15 h-1 to 0.39 h-1. A total of 45 small (approximately 0.025 m2) samples of surface material, 16 types, were collected directly from the four THUs and shipped to Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. The material samples were analyzed for VOC and aldehyde emissions in small stainless steel chambers using a standard, accurate mass balance method. Quantification of VOCs was done via gas chromatography – mass spectrometry and low molecular weight aldehydes via high performance liquid chromatography. Material specific emission factors (µg h-1 per m2 of material) were quantified. Approximately 80 unique VOCs were tentatively identified in the THU field samples, of which forty-five were quantified either because of their toxicological significance or because their concentrations were high. Whole-trailer and materialspecific emission factors were calculated for 33 compounds. The THU emission factors and those from their component materials were compared against those measured from other types of housing and the materials used in their construction. Whole THU emission factors for most VOCs were typically similar to those from comparative housing. The three exceptions were exceptionally large emissions of formaldehyde and TMPD-DIB (a common plasticizer in vinyl products), and somewhat elevated for phenol. Of these three compounds, formaldehyde was theonly one with toxicological significance at the observed concentrations. Whole THU formaldehyde emissions ranged from 173 to 266 µg m-2 h-1 in the morning and 257 to 347 µg m-2 h-1 in the afternoon. Median formaldehyde emissions in previously studied site-built and manufactured homes were 31 and 45 µg m-2 h-1, respectively. Only one of the composite wood materials that was tested appeared to exceed the HUD formaldehyde emission standard (430 µg/m2 h-1 for particleboard and 130 µg/m2 h-1 for plywood). The high loading factor (materialsurface area divided by THU volume) of composite wood products in the THUs and the low fresh air exchange relative to the material surface area may be responsible for the excessive concentrations observed for some of the VOCs and formaldehyde.