FEMA ADMITS TRAILER SAFETY RISK, OFFERS ASSISTANCE
CDC URGES IMMEDIATE MOVE OUT
FEB. 16, 2008 -- In 2006, months after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, survivors living in FEMA trailers began reporting
headaches, runny or bleeding noses, and breathing difficulties. A year later, after reports of an alleged carcinogen,
formaldehyde surfaced in 2007, a FEMA spokesman said they had no reason to question safety in FEMA trailers.
Formaldehyde is used in plywood or resins and is a colorless gas with a noticeable odor that has been linked to cancer,
according to press reports. Fumes can cause burning of the eyes and nose, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and
tightness in the chest.
Now, in early 2008, two and a half years after Katrina, FEMA Administrator David Paulison said."As a result of preliminary
findings FEMA will be taking additional actions to provide for the safety and well being of the residents of these travel
trailers by finding them alternative housing."
The agency said it had 519 trailer or mobile home units tested. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), using results of that
analysis done from Dec. 21 to Jan. 23, just announced that fumes in the trailers are on the average five times what appears
in new homes, and recommends FEMA move people out immediately, with priority on the sick, elderly, and children.
CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said "The levels in many of these trailers and mobile homes are higher than would be
expected indoors. Since these levels were found in December and January, and we know that higher temperatures can
cause formaldehyde levels to go up, we think it's wise for people to be relocated before the hot weather arrives in summer."
This has caused FEMA to enter its "damage control" mode and issue statements addressing the issue. The agency said they
provided 143,752 mobile homes & travel trailers to hurricane victims, and released the following statistics of trailer
State Current number of Households Peak Occupancy
Alabama 98 2,056
Louisiana 27,233 91,633
Mississippi 10,672 45,818
Texas 294 4,245
TOTAL: 38,297 143,752
FEMA also said it would enter into direct contracts with hotels; try to get local relocation; provide food vouchers and
stipends; enter into direct lease agreements with landlords; contract temporary storage and/or shipping of household
property & the boarding and care of household pets for families relocated to hotels or apartments that don't allow pets. In
addition, the agency said they will provide furniture for rental units through volunteer agencies, purchase the furniture when
necessary, and contract for moving teams and equipment to assist in the movement of households with special medical
needs. FEMA also recently began offering refunds effective Jan. 16 for sixty days to those who had purchased it's trailers.
Of the 38,297 households remaining in the trailers 30,860 (80.58% percent) are located on private sites - often adjacent to
the resident's home which is under repair or construction. The other 7,437 are in group, commercial or industrial sites
which FEMA is in the process of consolidating and phasing out as part of its plan to close all group sites and relocate
residents by June 1 of this year but that it will go ahead with plans to move victims of recent tornadoes into new trailers
which had been sitting in Arkansas since hurricane Katrina.
The agency also said they are convening a panel of experts on health issues that can be caused by long-term exposure to
formaldehyde; conducting testing of all models and materials used in it's trailers and mobile homes, and conducting a study
on the health of children living in the trailers and mobile homes.
The two agencies have established toll-free hotlines to respond to public inquiries. FEMA employees are available to discuss
housing concerns at 1-866-562-2381, or TTY 1-800-462-7585. CDC specialists will respond to health-related concerns at