- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that it will step up efforts to move Gulf Coast hurricane victims out of more than 35,000 trailers because tests indicate some of the temporary homes contain high levels of formaldehyde.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fumes from 519 tested trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi were, on average, about five times the level of exposure in most modern homes.

FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison and CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said at a press conference that they hope to move people out of the trailers before summer, when heat and a lack of ventilation in the trailers could make formaldehyde accumulations worse.

“The real issue is not what it will cost but how fast we can move people out,” Mr. Paulison said.

Dr. Gerberding said that although formaldehyde levels were low in some trailers, others were high enough to cause breathing problems for children, the elderly or people with respiratory problems.

About 5 percent had levels high enough to cause breathing problems even in people who do not ordinarily have respiratory trouble, Dr. Gerberding said.

Trailer occupants will be moved to apartments or hotels. Sturdier mobile homes that have been tested for formaldehyde will be used if necessary, he said.

FEMA said it is sticking with plans to distribute mobile homes to victims of recent tornadoes. Thousands of FEMA trailers were intended for hurricane victims but have sat vacant at the Hope, Ark., airport.

Mr. Paulison said workers would air out mobile homes at Hope for up to two weeks and later test them. “We’re not going to give somebody a mobile home that tested high for formaldehyde,” he said.

FEMA figures show 25,162 occupied FEMA trailers in Louisiana and 10,362 in Mississippi. Other states also have hundreds of trailers. At one time, FEMA had placed victims of the 2005 hurricanes in more than 144,000 trailers and mobile homes.

Mr. Paulison said FEMA will never again use travel trailers to house disaster victims but may continue to use larger, better constructed mobile homes.

Commonly used in manufactured homes, formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems and has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The CDC said the levels of formaldehyde varied widely. Some had levels high enough to cause burning eyes and breathing problems for people with asthma or a sensitivity to air pollutants, said Mike McGeehin, director of a CDC division that focuses on environmental hazards.

“Am I angry at FEMA? Of course I am,” Lynette Hooks, 48, said as she sat in her trailer near her still-damaged house in New Orleans. “They should have started moving people out of these trailers once they first started finding problems.”

A former nursing assistant now on disability, she has been living in a cramped FEMA trailer next to her flood-ravaged house since October 2006, sharing it with her teenage son, 21-year-old daughter and her daughter’s 9-month-old son.

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