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Press Release

For Immediate Release: December 13, 2007
Contact: Division of News & Electronic Media
Office of Communication; (404) 639-3286
FEMA News Desk; 202-646-4600

CDC to Begin Testing Trailers for Formaldehyde

FEMA continues efforts to move residents out of trailers

(NEW ORLEANS) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today that testing for formaldehyde levels in trailers and mobile homes will begin Friday, December 21, 2007. Testing will take place in Mississippi and Louisiana. The testing comes in response to a request from FEMA for assistance in answering questions related to indoor air quality and health in order to answer concerns raised by residents and community members.

CDC will begin indoor air sampling to determine formaldehyde levels inside a representative sample of occupied trailers and mobile homes purchased by FEMA to provide temporary housing for Gulf Coast residents. Models to be tested include travel trailers; modified travel trailers, often called "park models;" and mobile homes.

Currently, no federal guidelines or scientific standards exist related to formaldehyde levels in travel trailers. CDC will provide guidance to FEMA and information to trailer residents based on scientific findings. The guidance will help residents understand what the test results mean for them, and it will help FEMA establish priorities for which families may be in most urgent need of permanent housing. FEMA has placed a priority on moving people out of temporary housing.

"We are mindful of the importance of this information to people who have been living in temporary housing for such a long time," said Dr. Henry Falk, director of CDC's Coordinating Center for Environmental Health and Injury Prevention, said. "This is a complex task. Knowledge about health effects of formaldehyde on long'term residents of temporary housing is limited. Levels we find in these tests will help everyone involved in this process make better informed decisions about what steps to take."

"FEMA's first priority has been and continues to be the health and safety of temporary housing residents," said FEMA Administrator David Paulison. "Upon request, FEMA will continue to move any temporary housing unit resident with a formaldehyde concern into a hotel or motel immediately and will work with all residents to provide them a housing alternative. Every occupant who has expressed a health concern through our hotline has been offered a housing alternative and we are continuing to work with each of them to find a permanent housing solution that meets their needs."

CDC will take samples of air inside about 500 occupied trailers and mobile homes. Residents are encouraged to participate in the testing if contacted, but participation is not required. Testing will take approximately five weeks. A summary of findings will follow in early 2008, when all testing has been completed and the data have been analyzed. At the same time, residents who participated in the testing will be notified of the results for their residences.

Formaldehyde is common in the environment and is used in manufacturing a variety of building products. Formaldehyde has been found in almost all indoor environments. It is also a by-product of combustion and certain other natural processes. Thus, it may be present in substantial concentrations both indoors and outdoors.

While some mitigation activities may help reduce formaldehyde levels, all residents continue to be encouraged to seek long-term housing solutions. FEMA is working with the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and others to provide sufficient housing for all residents seeking to move out of trailers and mobile homes.

The indoor air quality assessment is one of several actions CDC has initiated to assist FEMA in protecting the health of temporary housing residents. The other public health activities include:

  • Convening a panel of experts to identify and advise on health issues that could be associated with long-term residence in temporary housing units, such as travel trailers.
  • Assessing formaldehyde levels across different models and types of unoccupied trailers to identify the factors that reduce or heighten those levels. This assessment also involves identifying cost-effective ways to reduce or lower formaldehyde levels and concentrations in temporary housing environments. This series of tests includes conducting an emissions study of building materials in conjunction with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
  • Conducting a study that looks at the health of children currently living in trailers along with a long–term study of children born while their families resided in FEMA trailers and mobile homes in Mississippi and Louisiana.
  • Providing educational materials and information to trailer residents about the CDC studies as well as steps that can be taken to improve indoor air quality.

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 1-800-CDC-INFO.


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