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Are the FEMA trailers for sale safe?

By Jo Lee Ferguson
July 8, 2010 at 12:56 a.m.

<strong>Q</strong><strong>UESTION:</strong> I see a lot of ads for FEMA campers for sale. I thought those trailers were found to be unsafe to live in. Why are they on the market?

<strong>ANSWER:</strong> Never fear. In the fight against questionable travel trailers, the government has employed the use of strongly worded warnings to buyers and notices on the trailers.

The ads you're seeing probably are for travel trailers connected to air quality concerns about formaldehyde levels. The Federal Emergency Management Agency used the trailers after Hurricane Katrina, until the government banned them for longterm housing because of the health concerns. (That's from CNN, which said FEMA used 120,000 of those trailers.)

In the past few years, the General Services Administration (which gets rid of unneeded government property) has sold 139,593 various kinds of temporary FEMA housing units, including more than 107,000 travel trailers that might have contained formaldehyde.

Brad Carroll, FEMA spokesman said, "FEMA works closely with GSA to ensure that potential buyers of temporary housing units are made aware of all air quality testing that has taken place. In the case of travel trailers, buyers must sign a waiver agreeing the unit will not be used for housing, and additional notices to this effect are placed on the unit itself, and the units may not be sold by the purchaser for housing in the future." 

The GSA sent me a similar statement.

This past week, there was a little bit of a stink after news reports that some of the travel trailers that had been sold were being used to house people involved in the clean-up efforts of the latest Gulf disaster - the BP Horizon oil spill.

On Friday, the GSA sent an e-mail to travel trailer purchasers, reminding them they had agreed the units would not be used as housing or sold as housing and the buyers would inform anyone they sell the units to that the trailers are not to be used as housing.

The e-mail goes on to say violating that agreement could land a person in legal hot water under federal law, which could mean fines and prison time.

Feel better?

<strong>Q:</strong> I was taught as a kid always to keep to the right. Yet so many stores, etc,. have their doors marked "Entrance" on the left and "Exit" on the right. Is there any possibility that businesses could all be the same with their doors?

<strong>A:</strong> I can't imagine any rules or regulations are forthcoming on this issue. If it makes you feel better, though, you have at least one well-known expert on your side when it comes to the "keep to the right" philosophy.

I was fortunate enough to get Paco Underhill on the phone to talk about this issue.

It's hard to come up with a short description for him - shopping and retail consultant, best-selling author (his newest book, "What Women Want," just hit stores), and founder and CEO of the consulting firm Envirosell. That company's website describes him as "one of the era's forefront shopping anthropologists." Here's what he had to say:

"In general, most environments work better with a counterclockwise circulation pattern. It puts our dominant hands in the best position," he said.

"If you think of it, 90 percent of us roughly are right-handed. Our right hands and legs tend to be stronger and longer than our left. Our right eyes tend to be stronger than our left eyes."

Underhill's firm works as a testing agent for prototype stores and bank branches, for instance. One of the "seminal" issues in that work is counterclockwise rotation works better than clockwise.

"The fact that there are some people that are still doing it wrong suggests that we are not going to be put out of work any time soon," Underhill said.

<strong>Q:</strong> We always recycle our plastic shopping bags by collecting them and returning them to the recycle bin in Walmart's entryway. What other plastics can be recycled there?

<strong>A:</strong> A Walmart spokesman told me the only things the stores can accept are bags from Walmart or other grocery stores and dry cleaning bags.

E-mail questions to, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606



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