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FEMA Trailers to Haiti Sparks Concerns

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee has revived concerns over unhealthy
levels of formaldehyde in trailers used by victims of Hurricane Katrina as the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) explores using the trailers to house victims of Haiti’s
earthquake, according to an article on the Homeland Security Today Web site. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, wrote
to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on January 15 to voice his concerns over the idea of
sending the trailers to Haiti to deploy them as temporary housing units for victims of the
Magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck the nation on January 12. “As you know, I have
expressed great concern for the safety of these units due to the presence of formaldehyde.
While I continue to believe that these units should not be used for human habitation, I do
believe that they could be of some benefit on a short-term, limited basis if the
appropriate safeguards are provided,” Thompson wrote in the letter. International medical
and search-and-rescue teams, for example, might use the trailers for short-term shelter or
as emergency clinics for the treatment of minor injuries, Thompson suggested. But he
disapproved of any prolonged occupation of a trailer by victims requiring a place to live.
“However, given the potential for adverse health affects when used as more than short-term
shelter, I would be gravely concerned about distributing these units to the people of Haiti
for use as housing. This country’s immediate response to help in this humanitarian crisis
should not be blemished by later concerns over adverse health consequences precipitated by
our efforts,” Thompson warned. FEMA did not return calls from Homeland Security Today
inquiring about the safety of the trailers for human habitation. Earlier last week,
Thompson objected to FEMA’s public auction of mobile homes and trailers used by victims of
Hurricane Katrina. Thompson acknowledged that FEMA was attempting to recoup funds lost in
the mismanagement of the trailers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of
the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005. The Bush administration, Thompson accused, did not assess
needs before purchasing trailers, paid too much for standard trailers, stored trailers
improperly and paid too much to maintain and secure them after they were used. But despite
good intentions, the decision by FEMA to auction more than 100,000 of the trailers through
the General Services Administration could pose a threat to public health, the congressman
protested. “The mass disposal of these trailers through public auction is troubling.
Although marked with legal disclaimers, it is no secret that these trailers may contain
mold, formaldehyde and other potentially hazardous substances. A legal disclaimer will not
prevent harm to a child who inhales formaldehyde or mold,” he stated. Thompson requested
that FEMA suspend the auction and sell only small numbers of trailers to government or
non-profit organizations that could rehabilitate the trailers to make them safe for
long-term habitation. FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
released a study on Feb. 14, 2008, that determined the temporary housing units contained
unhealthy levels of formaldehyde. The CDC concluded that a random sampling of the trailers
revealed average levels of formaldehyde of about 77 parts per billion (ppb) in each unit.
Exposure to such levels of formaldehyde, intended to keep the trailers clean and preserved,
could increase risks of cancer and respiratory sicknesses, CDC warned. *** Editors’
note: Only six of 519 travel trailers tested by the CDC were found to have formaldehyde
levels in excess of those established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development for manufactured homes.
Story courtesy of RV Business.

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