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Public Lab Wiki documentation


This is a revision from July 19, 2014 22:01. View all revisions
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Here, we're collecting draft text for the website (being planned on Github:

Privacy dashboard:

Stay anonymous

There's no reason to share your real name, address, or contact information. Share your data under a false name and be careful of the potentially identifying information you decide to share.

We work hard to keep your data secure, and don't need to know who you are…

Know who's reading

You can decide to share privately with our team of epidemiologists and social scientists, and the information you supply will only be used for scholarly purposes and in a non-identifying manner.

If you choose to make your data public, anyone will be able to read your story to learn about indoor air contamination in mobile homes. But if you change your mind about sharing a story publicly you can pull all of your publicly shared information into the private and secure database used exclusively by the research team. You can do this at any time on the privacy page by clicking the "Make all my sharing private" button. This will change all future copies of publicly accessible data but we can't do anything about people who have already seen or downloaded your stories and could potentially recirculate them.

Your account data

At any time you can download all of your contributions to WWB in a single document by clicking the "download my data" button on the privacy page.

If, for whatever reason, you decide that you would like to close your account you may do so at any time by clicking the "close my account" button on the privacy page. This will not only pull your publicly shared information from the website but it will also remove your answers from aggregate representations like graphs.

Am I looking for a VIN or a HUD number?


If you are residing in a home that could be classified as a "recreation vehicle," "commercial coach," "camping vehicle," "travel trailer," "park trailer," or "tip-out,"it is regulated as a vehicle by the Department of Transportation and will have a Vehicle Identification Number or VIN. A VIN number is engraved into the tow bar of travel trailers and campers and also printed on their title. A VIN number are 17-charecters long.


Image of A VIN number (sometimes they are embossed straight into the tow hitch and can be a bit more difficult to locate)


If you are residing in a "mobile home" or "manufactured home" that is built for permanent occupancy by a single family, it is regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and will have a serial number or HUD number.

The HUD certification number or the serial number can be found on mobile or modular homes on the tow bar, on the data plate on the exterior, on the bill of sale, on the home’s title or, sometimes, behind a bedroom closet door, electrical panel box door, or kitchen cabinet door, each section of a double or triple-wide will have its own serial number. They are typically composed of three letters followed by six or seven numbers.


_Image of a HUD number on the exterior of a mobile home. _

For more help in understanding or locating you HUD number see this helpful blog post.

Knowledge Base

General information on Domestic Indoor Air Quality The average formaldehyde level in manufactured homes ranges from 15.5 ppb (CDC, PDF) to 36.3 ppb (California’s Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment, PDF)—about four times higher than those of conventional homes.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has an extensive indoor air quality scientific findings resource library (Link). The EPA's website on the indoor air quality of homes (Link). The EPA's Toxicological Review on Formaldehyde Inhalation (Link). For more information call the EPA Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) Assistance Line (202) 554-1404.

Mitigation NASA was an early pioneer in using plants to clean indoor air, also known as phytoremediation. Read one of their studies here: (PDF). Recent studies on phytoremediation are finding that it is both the leaves and microbes that live in potting soil that help clean formaldehyde and other common indoor toxins from the air (Link).

One of the reasons that this website exists is because of the lack of studies that document long-term residential chemical exposure. Many industry-funded studies suggest that formaldehyde emissions decrease so rapidly after construction that long-term domestic exposures should not be an issue (PDF 1+ 2). Other studies on the factors of chronic residential formaldehyde exposure found that over time ventilation lost its efficacy in mitigating formaldehyde levels and source removal was the most effective mitigation technique (Link).

Some formaldehyde in your home could be coming from permanent press fabrics which are treated with DMDHEU (1,3-dimethylol-4,5-dihydroxyethylene urea), which is formaldehyde based, to keep them free of wrinkles. One study found that washing these cloths in slightly acidic deionized water reduced the amount of formaldehyde coming out of them. Yet, washing them slightly-to-moderately alkaline water, like the tap water in New Orleans, increased the formaldehyde off-gassing (Link). Unless you have a lot of these kinds of shirts, this will likely be a minor contributor to decreased indoor air quality.

Studies on the Air Quality of FEMA Trailers Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Studied on FEMA trailers (Link). The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry tests from 2007 (Link). A pilot study on the health effects of FEMA trailers on children was completed in the Fall of 2013 (Link).

FEMA Trailer Sales Certificates The conditions of sale and liabilities of the various models of FEMA trailer can be viewed in the following document acquired by way of the Freedom of Information Act (PDF).

Advocates Safer Chemicals Healthier Families (Link). Blog by the Director of the Sierra Club Formaldehyde Campaign (Link).


Where We Breathe is a collaborative research platform investigating how the air inside manufactured housing may affect residents’ health. The project seeks to better understand the effects of on-going low-level formaldehyde exposure, create a collective conversation about indoor air quality among the residents of manufactured housing across the country, and help the exposed explore mitigation options.

Log in (hyperlink’d) tell us your experiences to contribute to a better scientific understanding of formaldehyde exposure and to share stories, information and advice with other people across the country and facing similar issues.

We are committed to maintaining your anonymity and the security of all data you share with the WWB research team. Click hereto learn more about our privacy policy.

We’ve created a public repository of information related to indoor air quality within manufactured housing, what we refer to as our “Knowledge Base.” Anyone can read these documents and any registered user can add their own research.

In the future we hope to establish a lending library of formaldehyde sensors that can be requested from this website and mailed to your home. We are also hoping to develop inexpensive phytoremediation kits (ie using house plants to clean the air).

The project is run out of Public Lab, a grassroots environmental monitoring non-profit based in New Orleans, and is funded by the Passport Foundation.


Jeffrey Warren leads the development of the WWB webtool. Warren is the creator of and co-founder and Research Director for the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, Warren designs mapping and civic science tools and professionally flies balloons and kites. Notable software he has created include the vector-mapping framework Cartagen and orthorectification tool MapKnitter. He is a fellow at MIT's Center for Civic Media and an advocate of open source software, hardware, and data. He co-founded Vestal Design, a graphic/interaction design firm in 2004, and directed the Cut&Paste Labs project, a year-long series of workshops on opensource tools and web design in 2006-7 with Lima designer Diego Rotalde. Jeff holds an MS from MIT and a BA in Architecture from Yale University, and spent much of that time working with artist/technologist Natalie Jeremijenko, building robotic dogs for public science investigations.

Nicole Novak, Epidemiological: Novak designed the research protocol and analyzes the quantitative data in addition to facilitating outreach to the Hispanic migrant labor communities in the midwest with whom she works. Novak, a doctoral candidate in Epidemiologic Science at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, holds a masters in public health science from the University of Oxford. She is the 2013-2014 recipient of the Angus Campbell Fellowship for Survey Research (Institute for Social Research-University of Michigan).

Dr. Nick Shapiro is the lead researcher of WWB. Shapiro holds a doctorate in anthropology and a masters in medical anthropology from the University of Oxford. In his doctoral work Shapiro tracked the resale of 150,000 FEMA trailers across the US using ethnographic, GIS and citizen science techniques. Shapiro began to develop the concept of this project during an NEH fellowship at University of Southern California’s Institute of Multimedia Literacy in 2011. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher in Goldsmiths’ Department of Sociology where he studies environmental monitoring practices and devices as a part of the European Research Council funded Citizen Sense project.

Melissa Nunes [Add text here]

Ellen (Stevie) Lewis, Outreach Manager: Lewis comes to Public Lab with a background in environmental studies and community development. She has held positions as Volunteer Coordinator for the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Mississippi, Resource Advisor for the National Park Service in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and as Watershed Coordinator for the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, a non-profit focused on promoting citizen science in aquatics. Stevie’s interest in building community resilience through environmental initiatives includes community and environmental work in far reaching corners of Kenya, Thailand, Botswana and Scotland. Stevie holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Dickinson College. As a 2012 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, Stevie completed a MSc in Environment and Development from the University of Edinburgh. Her academic work and dissertation earned distinction through the university and she completed her studies first in class.


Nancy McConnell: A resold FEMA trailer resident in Oklahoma of Cherokee descent who advises WWB on community concerns.

Dr. Steve Wing: An associate professor of Epidemiology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillins School of Global Public Health.

Dr. Dana Powell: Assistant Professor of Anthropology and an expert in indigenous environmental justice movements.

Becky Gillette: The Director of the Sierra Club’s Formaldehyde Campaign.