Toxic Trailers: FEMA to Test Formaldehyde

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CDC to Begin Tests on 500 FEMA Trailers and
Mobile Homes in Louisiana and Mississippi
by Shelley Bluejay Pierce
After delays lasting nearly two months, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will begin indoor air-quality tests on the FEMA issued trailers and mobile homes deployed to hurricane victims.
FEMA Administrator, R. David Paulison and Dr. Howard Frumkin, Director for the National Center for Environmental Health, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) at CDC held a press conference Thursday to discuss the upcoming tests.
Ok...even though FEMA and the CDC had decided (without my knowing it of course) to DELETE me from their media advisory list, a "friend" called me a few minutes before this press conference was held and I called in.
I caught Admin. Paulison TOTALLY off guard when they allowed phoned in press calls to ask questions.
I was the first one and was followed by the big-wigs at New York Times, Washington Post and all of them... poor Paulison about freaked out when he heard the question I directed at Dr. Frumkin.
At that point, Paulison had no choice but to finally give me the answer we all had been waiting for.
Read the article below and then tell me whether YOU think you would want to be in a FEMA mobile home that just went into the reservations in California!!!!
blessings, Bluejay
CDC to Begin Tests on 500 FEMA Trailers and
Mobile Homes in Louisiana and Mississippi
Shelley Bluejay Pierce 
Testing for formaldehyde levels in the FEMA units used by hurricane victims was set to begin in early November. The tests were delayed with FEMA saying that more time was needed to develop a better indoor air quality testing program.

By late November, a federal judge in New Orleans had ordered FEMA administrator, R. David Paulison, to submit a "detailed plan" for testing the units for formaldehyde levels. The press conference held Thursday in Washington D.C. was to inform the media of the testing parameters and upcoming schedules.

Administrator Paulison explained, “We have done some sample testing along the way but what has not happened, is a pure scientific test to find out exactly what we have. That’s why we asked CDC to come in and do this.”

Paulison continued, “We wanted to make sure that we had a test that was scientifically based, that we had a credible agency that really understood formaldehyde to come in and do this and give us an honest assessment as to what’s going on.”

Many trailer and mobile home occupants living in the FEMA supplied housing in the hurricane zones have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers who made the trailers claiming that high levels of formaldehyde have caused them health problems.

The generic word “trailer” has been used in the discussions and media reports about the FEMA units that occupants have complained of having high levels of formaldehyde. Lindsay Huckabee, a hurricane survivor that testified before the House Oversight Committee Hearings, has repeatedly stated that her family has suffered many health problems from the formaldehyde exposure in the FEMA provided units she and her family have lived in.

Native American Times asked Administrator Paulison and Dr. Frumkin during the press conference Thursday if the mobile homes that have been in storage in Hope, Arkansas and deployed for use in aiding wildfire victims in California are of the same type as the mobile homes that are to be tested for formaldehyde in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Administrator Paulison replied, “We are testing every model that we have. The mobile homes that we sent to Native Americans are very similar to the ones that we are using in Louisiana and Mississippi so we should be able to extrapolate all of that also.”

Paulison also explained that HUD regulations have standards for materials that are used in building mobile homes that differ from the trailer industry. However, he further commented that the FEMA mobile homes that are occupied down in the two testing areas in the Gulf Coast states will help in determining if there are formaldehyde issues in the mobile homes in the rest of their inventory.

Dr. Howard Frumkin from the CDC stated, “We support FEMA’s goal for people to get into safe, healthy, permanent housing as soon as is feasible. The program we are announcing today is a program of testing formaldehyde levels in 500 trailers that are occupied across Louisiana and Mississippi to determine the formaldehyde levels in those trailers and to determine some factors that might affect the levels either pushing them up or pushing them down. We will begin the testing just before Christmas, will stand it down for a few days during the holidays and continue the testing for about a one months time, concluding in late January. We expect to have the entire data set of results available for distribution both for the participants and to the larger community later in February.”

Dr. Frumkin went on to say, “There is no single, safe, line in the sand level of formaldehyde exposure that is acceptable and there is no single level that is unacceptable. The higher the level of exposure to formaldehyde, the greater the concern with regard to health affects. The lower the level of formaldehyde the more reassurance we can issue to the people living in mobile homes.”

Previous reports from FEMA state that an average of 800 people per week have been moving out of the FEMA trailers down in the hurricane areas and that a little less than 47,000 families are still occupying travel trailers and mobile homes spread across the Southeast. Housing shortages have left many residents with no options but to stay in their FEMA units.

Sierra Club spokeswoman, Becky Gillette stated in earlier press reports, “FEMA should spend less time on testing and more on trying to reduce formaldehyde levels in trailers. There are no other places for these people to go besides FEMA

Dr. Frumkin explained the testing parameters by saying, “We’ll have our staff visiting 500 randomly selected trailers. We have a careful distribution of trailer types so that we will be able to come in on differences that will apply to one trailer type to another. They’ll conduct an air sampling using standardized industrial hygiene methods as well as make observations of the trailers and conduct interviews with people in the trailers to understand some of the conditions that prevail in the trailers. This is a limited study in the sense that it’s a one time only testing. We are aware that the levels we measure during our January testing may not be the same as the levels that prevailed a year or two ago when the trailers were new or may not be the level that prevail when the weather’s warmer. So we will be issuing appropriate cautions with the results we issue.”

The indoor air quality testing to be performed by the CDC was described by Dr. Frumkin as “air sucking” where a machine is placed in the center part of the living area and collects air at the breathing height of those occupying the trailer so that actual air being breathed in by occupants can be monitored over a one hour period of time.

Dr. Frumkin explained, “Formaldehyde is only one of several factors that families will want to consider when they make their decisions about relocating to more permanent housing.”

Frumkin also stated, “These tests that we are getting ready to do and the studies that will follow will provide the residents with additional information as they make their choices in housing and where they want to move to.”

The air testing plan and the number of units to be tested were based on gaining the broadest air sampling results from all the various manufacturers, types of units and the lifestyles of those people occupying the FEMA units. Different manufacturers supplied FEMA with emergency housing and of those various manufacturers, there will different model types produced. The air sampling to be done by CDC is said to address the best cross section of these variabilities in the FEMA trailers and mobile homes.

Dr. Frumkin detailed the sampling program that CDC is conducting with FEMA as being only one of a series of activities to address and protect the health of those people living in the FEMA units. An expert panel from outside the government has supplied their expertise and a parallel study is supposed to be done in unoccupied trailers that will consider structural factors and abatement methods that may help reduce levels of formaldehyde.

Lindsay Huckabee has lived in two mobile homes, made by different manufacturers provided by FEMA, told Native American Times, “I don’t need a number on a brochure or a testing print out to show me what the formaldehyde has done to my family. For the last two years while they have been deciding whether they wanted to test the FEMA units? We have been living in them.”

“I am curious to know whether those units that show the high formaldehyde levels will magically have realistic and available rental units pop up for us to use. I don’t think that anybody is in these by choice at this point,” stated Huckabee.

In following the Huckabee familys’ progress since the initial interview given to Native American Times following the House Oversight Committee Hearings, little progress has been made in getting the family out of their FEMA mobile home. Both Lindsay and her husband are working and raising five young children. With the enormous medical bills their family incurs due to reported high formaldehyde levels in their FEMA mobile home, there has been no money saved aside to aid them in moving or rebuilding.

The Huckabee family reports that they have dealt with ongoing physical ailments while living in their mobile homes. Her husband had to have a rare cancerous growth removed from the soft palate of his mouth just days before his wife Lindsay testified to the Oversight Committee Hearing.

The Huckabee’s state that the mounting medical bills have made any movement forward toward relocating or rebuilding impossible.

“Our daughter who is 6 years old is having a painful laparoscopic nasal surgery done this upcoming week. The doctors need to widen the sinus passages and she is also having permanent ear drainage tubes placed in her ears because the temporary ones cannot handle all the discharge that is draining in her sinuses. The doctor stated that if we were leaving this mobile home anytime soon, we would not need to have the surgery done at all,” explained Huckabee.

According to Huckabee, there have been no reimbursements by any agencies for their medical bills. She also explained to Native American Times that the doctor treating her daughter demanded that the child live somewhere other than in the mobile home following the surgery due to the fact that the new exposed nasal tissues will have no chance of healing if exposed to the formaldehyde in their mobile home.

Results of the CDC testing will be made available in late February according to Dr. Frumkin. Any FEMA residents who have issues with their units or need assistance from FEMA are asked to call: 1-866-562-2381


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