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Press Briefing Transcripts

CDC Testing of Occupied FEMA Trailers in the Gulf Coast Area

Moderator: Bernadette Burden, December 13, 2007, 11:00 a.m. EST

OPERATOR: All parties please stand by for the CDC media conference. Today′s call will begin in just a few minutes. As a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press star followed by one on your touch tone phone. Once again, please stand by for today′s conference.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: … CDC media briefing. We are gathered today to (INAUDIBLE) the testing of (INAUDIBLE) This morning we will receive a presentation from Dr. Henry Falk, the Director of the Coordinating Center for Environmental Health and Injury Prevention at the CDC, and Mr. Jim Stark, the Director of the Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office. Dr. Falk will make a presentation followed by comments and remarks from Mr. Stark. We will then open it up for questions.

This is a full level press conference. We will have both questions from the floor as well as from the phone, and we will go in order, so we ask that you raise your hand. We will bring a microphone to you so that you can ask a question.

Following the question and answer period, we will then escort you across the parking lot of the facility in order for you to witness a demonstration of the testing procedure that will take place in the temporary housing unit.

You will have approximately three to five minutes at that time to take (INAUDIBLE) and ask questions. We will ask that you do that in a quick fashion so that we can allow some time for others to come in to also witness the presentation.

We thank you in advance for coming, and now I am going to turn the floor over to Dr. Falk.

HENRY FALK, DIRECTOR, CDC′S COORDINATING CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH AND INJURY PREVENTION: Good morning, and thank you very much for being here today. We want to announce the start of the study to measure formaldehyde levels in air in 500 FEMA occupied trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi. The effort will be led by CDC. We′re doing this in collaboration and closely working with FEMA, with support from FEMA, and we will stay in close contact with state and local health agencies and others as we work in this effort.

Our goal is to provide information and assistance to the many families and occupants of the trailers as they transition from trailers to more suitable long–term housing, particularly in the hope that this will enable everybody to make a better informed decision about how rapidly to make that transition.

We understand the profound impact that hurricane Katrina has had on so many people in this area, and particularly for those who have had to stay long term in trailers, we agree fully with the FEMA decision to assist everyone in moving from the trailers to long term more suitable housing. We hope that this study will assist families as part of that effort.

CDC awarded a contract two days ago to begin conducting these tests in the field, and we anticipate that the collection of samples will take approximately 35 days till late in January, as you can see on the chart. We then will have several weeks in which we will conclude the analyses of the samples, collate the data from the various tests and prepare an initial report to the community on the overall study findings. We anticipate that the results will be presented in two broad ways, one overall results to the general community relevant to all occupants of FEMA trailers summarizing the findings, and secondly, individual visits to the participants of the study (INAUDIBLE) occupants of the trailers that are being tested so that we can individually convey the results, and (INAUDIBLE) jointly with public health person and a FEMA person so that can both talk about the results in terms of health context but also in terms of the housing context.

500 – the number 500 was chosen as follows. There are a number of different trailer types, various manufacturers. We identified 11 broad groups of different manufacturers and different trailer types so that in addition to looking at the total number of those trailers, we would also be able to do analyses looking at how different types of trailers, how those results might compare to the total, so there also are a number of smaller manufacturers and we have some groupings that include trailers from smaller manufacturers.

The actual testing includes the collection of an air sample for formaldehyde and we hope to demonstrate for you this morning how that works. It takes about an hour to collect that sample. There also will be a brief questionnaire for the families, occupants in the trailers, about activity patterns and use of the trailers, and also a brief walkthrough and look at the trailer for any obvious problems such as heavy mold or something that might also be of importance.

I want to point out and be very open about several key issues and limitations. One is we′re doing this test at a single point in time. We need to recognize that levels of formaldehyde in the trailers probably were higher in the past. They may yet be higher again in warmer weather in the summer. We′re doing this testing now. We think it′ll – we′re ready to do it, we think it will be informative. We recognize that there are significant numbers of people still in the trailers as it comes to warmer weather in summer, that we will probably do this again in the warmer weather to get a more complete picture of what those exposures are, but nevertheless, I want people to at least understand that this is a single test at a single point in time.

We also want everyone to recognize that there′s not a single – there′s not a standard for formaldehyde in indoor air in trailers. There′s not a single level at which one can say above this level definitely not good, below this level definitely safe. There is no standard in that sense. There′s not a bright line. As we try to indicate, there′s a gradation of levels that we′ll be seeing over a spectrum of findings. At the higher range there′s a greater likelihood of developing symptoms. There′s probably a greater need for thinking about the potential for long term health effects, more, obviously, aggressive attention to trying to lower formaldehyde levels in trailers, and probably more reason for people to think about the importance of relocating sooner or as rapidly as they can.

At the lower levels, again, remember this is a one time test (INAUDIBLE) higher in the past, could be higher in the future. People probably are lesser urgency in terms of thinking about the transition from the trailers, but even at the lower levels, you know, we have all agreed that this is not suitable long term residential housing, and so, but the people at the lower levels have a bit more time to think about their alternatives and ways to come up with alternative housing.

I want to emphasize that there are many other factors that need to be kept in mind in thinking about the trailers and housing and potential risks. In addition to the formaldehyde levels, they are vulnerable groups, children, elderly, those with asthma, those with chronic diseases, need to stick, you know, if there are people in the trailers who are in those vulnerable groups, there will be more reason to think about the need for relocation, and if people are in the trailers more intensively, as opposed to being in them sporadically, the length of time is also an important factor. People who have had symptoms or reactions or irritations from the formaldehyde, another reason to think about the importance of moving into alternative housing, so the formaldehyde level is another factor which helps us think about the trailers and (INAUDIBLE) the people but it′s not the only factor and in many ways not even perhaps the most important factor.

We also want to emphasize that there are things people can do even in their trailers, and I know you′ve said this many times in the past, but just to re–emphasize that ventilation is very important, temperature control is important, reducing humidity, no smoking in the trailers, and trying to limit other kinds of materials which might increase formaldehyde levels.

So, let me reiterate. The results we hope will provide information of value to occupants in the trailers as they have to make their decisions about transitioning from the trailers to more suitable long term housing. We hope this will be helpful, the results will be helpful not just to the 500 – the occupants of the 500 trailers being tested, but to people generally in this condition as we are able to present the overall results, and we will hope to provide those overall results by mid–February.

So today′s announcement is part of a broader effort than we are working on with FEMA, and we will undoubtedly be speaking to you about that and the work that we′re doing. We hope that you will all avail yourselves of the opportunity to actually see how the testing is done in the trailers as set up outside, and with that, let me turn this over to Jim Stark, from FEMA. Thank you.

JIM STARK, DIRECTOR, TRANSITIONAL RECOVERY OFFICE, NEW ORLEANS, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (FEMA): Thank you. Good morning, and thank you for being here to help us inform our Gulf Coast public of our continued efforts to provide safe temporary housing to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Let me also publicly thank Dr. Falk and his colleagues at the CDC for traveling here today to New Orleans to help up assist – or to assist us in leading this testing program in Mississippi and Louisiana.

FEMA′s first priority has been and will be the health and safety of our temporary housing occupants, and I know we face questions related to indoor air quality and health concerns regarding the presence of formaldehyde in our units.

However, as you know, FEMA is not a public health agency, and we don′t have the scientific expertise to properly test, evaluate and provide appropriate information on formaldehyde and air quality of our temporary units.

CDC, the nation′s premiere public health resource, has that requisite expertise in epidemiology, environmental science, exposure assessment, and engineering control technology to oversee this kind of testing program for FEMA and the citizens of the Gulf Coast.

As the CDC contractors embark on their testing mission, FEMA staff will accompany them and help explain the activities to the residents and advise them of their housing alternatives. I′d like to reiterate our commitment to the safety of all our housing applicants and residents and to helping them with the transition to permanent housing.

In particular, if residents feel that their health is at risk, FEMA′s prepared to immediately, and I say that immediately, locate alternative housing for them.

In most cases this will mean a trip to a motel or a hotel until appropriate rental units can be found, but we are committed to moving people out as soon as possible, and that means immediately if they′re concerned about health.

We′ve stood by this commitment, and since July we have placed or are in the process of placing over 3700 families into housing alternatives. Every occupant who′s expressed concerns and has asked to move has been offered a viable housing alternative.

Our toll free help line continues to operate, and we urge any of our applicants to call if they have concerns about formaldehyde or their safety in the temporary housing units, and that′s travel trailers and mobile homes. The number is in your packets, but I′ll go over it again. For FEMA, that′s 1–866–562–2381.

We look forward to this testing program and providing an accurate assessment of air quality for our travel trailers and mobile homes so that our Gulf Coast occupants can make informed decisions in their future. Thank you.


BERNADETTE BURDEN: Thank you, gentlemen. Now we will begin our question–and–answer period. I will turn this portion of the conference over to Laura, our phone operator. I will be assisting her as we go through the process. Laura?

OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time if you would like to ask a question on the phone lines, please press star one on your touch tone phone. Once again, that′s star one if you have a question on the phone lines.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: Alright, we will begin with questions from the floor. If you would raise your hand and Millie will come to you. We ask that you state your name as well as your media affiliation so that your colleagues on the phone are aware of who′s asking the question.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: (INAUDIBLE) with WWL Radio here in New Orleans. Why was this not done before?

FALK: So, we are trying to be helpful to people in this situation. We′re trying to work closely with our colleagues in FEMA. We have since sometime over the last several months planning this, and I think we all recognize, I think that this has been such an extraordinary event and perhaps didn′t think early on just how prolonged the effort might be, people in the trailers, so – but I′m hopeful that this will provide good information at this point and, you know, if we need to do additional testing, then we will do additional testing after this.

STARK: And we did do some testing early. Summer before last we did testing on unoccupied units in Baton Rouge, and we thought we could determine what some levels were in the unoccupied units as they came off the line, so to speak, and were provided to our applicants.

It turns out that the testing may be better suited to the protocol we′re following now, and that is to test units that have been occupied for quite some time to determine perhaps what the air quality levels are and again to provide some kind of an assessment that people can make decisions on and their futures (INAUDIBLE)


UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: You told your own people not to go in the trailers that were closed up.

STARK: No, that′s a misperception …


STARK: … and I would like to clear that up right now, please.


STARK: We told our own people not to go in trailers that have been boxed up, closed up for months at a time in our storage units, and that, we feel, is not safe. They′ve been sitting out in the sun boxed up in places like (INAUDIBLE) and Sherwood Forest, and it is not safe perhaps for them to go in and spend a lot of time in there immediately after opening the door.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: We will now take a question from the phone. Laura (ph)?

OPERATOR: Thank you. Gary Michiels, Mississippi Public Radio, your line is now open.

GARY MICHIELS, MISSISSIPPI PUBLIC RADIO: Thank you very much. First of all, whoever answers, would you please identify yourselves? We′re having a little trouble hooking into your system.

How long do you expect this testing to go on, and what measures might you take whenever you find that there is some pollution?

FALK: So we anticipate that the testing will go on for about 35 days, and test the 500 trailers. We anticipate that will take several weeks to collate the results and pull that together and come forward with an initial report.

At that time, you know, we will have to evaluate carefully what we have found so far, and I know there are questions about whether there will be additional testing, but it′s very important for us to see what we find in evaluating these 500 trailers. The tests may all be high, they may all be low, they may vary by particular type of trailer. There may not be any particular pattern. I think depending on the findings, that will help us in anticipating what we might need to do in the future, so we will hope to have the testing completed by the – by late January, initial report to everybody by mid–February, and at that point evaluate what we have found and what that tells us about where to go in the future.


MICHIELS: Follow–up, please, and if you would, please, identify yourself who′s speaking to me, I …

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: That was Dr. Henry Falk of the CDC.

MICHIELS: Thank you very much.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: We will now take a question from the floor, please?

DAVID HAMMER (ph): David Hammer (ph) (INAUDIBLE) The Sierra Club results were 18 months ago, and the – Harvey Johnson (ph) and Jeffrey Williams (ph) (INAUDIBLE) I′m not sure how you pronounce his name, testified yesterday in Congress that – before Congress that – and maybe this would be best for you, Jim, but the – that FEMA was not equipped at that time to do any testing, and you mentioned that frequently. Could you explain more thoroughly why (INAUDIBLE) have been an arrangement like this when those red flags first went up 18 months ago or possibly before?

STARK: We did, David, take a – as I said, we did start testing 18 months ago, and we implemented a test on a control group of trailers that hadn′t been occupied at the time in consult with a number of the inner agency partners that we work with on trying to set air quality or determine safe air quality for the travel trailers.

The considered opinion was that let′s test those trailers that weren′t occupied, and we set up a test regimen in Baton Rouge, and we did that. It became clear after those tests were reviewed that perhaps that was not the best test regimen to follow, and this past fall in consultation with CDC and the experts were able to determine that this next testing round would be better suited to determining the long term air quality and effects of perhaps formaldehyde on that air quality in our travel trailers at that time.


STARK: I don′t remember the timing, David. It was probably three or four months before the formaldehyde issue was raised last summer.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: We′ll take another question from the floor.

JOSH NORMAN (ph), SUN HERALD, BILOXI: Josh Norman (ph), with the Sun Herald in Biloxi. You mentioned that this 500 trailers, you′re distributing a test based on trailer types, and I was wondering if also geography was going to have anything to do with the distribution (INAUDIBLE)

FALK: Yes, absolutely, and we will have a proportionate split between Louisiana and Mississippi, you know, proportional to the total number of trailers in those two areas, so testing will be both in Louisiana and Mississippi and proportional to the total numbers of occupied trailers, and then we will have the breakdown by the different manufacturing types and see that, you know, the formaldehyde (INAUDIBLE) from various furnishings and materials that are used in the trailers, it′s conceivable that, you know, for different groups they might have different furnishings or be put together differently, so we thought it important to test that and to have enough of examples of the different major types of manufacturers to see if there′s significant difference between one and the others, which would be helpful, I think, to people in those particular kinds of trailers, so, but definitely geographically between Louisiana and Mississippi we had considering this.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: Thank you. We will now take a question from the phone. Laura?

OPERATOR: Thank you. (INAUDIBLE) your line is now open.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Thank you very much. If you could identify yourselves (INAUDIBLE) that would be great.

I was just wondering, are you planning to correlate anything in terms of exposures at health?

BERNADETTE BURDEN: I′m sorry, there′s a bit of background noise. Would you please repeat your question as well as your name? Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Sure. This is (INAUDIBLE) from (INAUDIBLE) Are you planning to correlate anything in terms of formaldehyde exposure and health?

FALK: So, I didn′t quite hear that. I think the question was about exposure and health?


FALK: Right. So, we′re measuring air levels in the trailers as a – as what we would consider the best way of assessing exposure to formaldehyde in the trailers. Very often we are in positions where we can do a blood test or some other type of test and actually measure somebody′s exposure more directly, and that′s not possible in this situation. There is no blood test that actually correlates with the exposure, so we′re doing the formaldehyde air measurements in the trailer. There will be a short questionnaire which will give us some information about activity patterns, length of time people stay in the trailer during the course of the day, and practices in terms of air conditioning and ventilation, which might provide a little bit more guidance as to the intensity of exposure.

There is not a very sharp direct way of predicting from a particular formaldehyde level that health effects will inevitably result, and we′re trying to be very open about that, and when we put together this kind of a shaded spectrum of levels, we want people to recognize some people will react at higher levels, some people might react to formaldehyde at lower levels, so I – and as I said, we – and partially because that there is no standard for formaldehyde in trailers, so the link between exposure and health effects is not quite as predictable as one might like, but what we want to say is that for people in the higher exposure levels, as the tests come back, it′s important for them to realize that there′s a greater likelihood of people developing symptoms at those higher levels, the greater likelihood of potential for long term effects, more reasons for them to be thinking about ways to reduce formaldehyde levels in their trailers, and more reason to think about the importance of relocating sooner, so we′re trying to recognize that there is a linkage broadly between remedial exposure and the health effects, but it′s not exactly predictable to just a single formaldehyde level.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: We′ll take a – that was Dr. Henry Falk for the people on the phone. We′ll take another question from the floor, please?

ELIZABETH WILLIS (ph), FOX 8 NEWS: Hi. Elizabeth Willis (ph) with Fox 8 News here in New Orleans. I had a couple of questions about numbers. You mentioned that since July you′ve moved about 3700 people into more transitional housing. How many of those people actually complained of symptoms of formaldehyde?

STARK: I don′t know how many complained of symptoms. That′s – to put it into context across the gulf, we received about 6000, 6700 calls about formaldehyde concern. Of that about 3700 have asked to move based on those concerns.

All – we did not get into the details of any specific medical complaints. In fact, we referred them to the CDC for that, but of those 3700 that asked to move, we went right on into our process of finding them alternative housing, no questions asked, and of that amount, about half have actually moved, about six or 700 have decided to stay put, and the others are in the process of moving right now.

All of them, all 3700 that asked to be moved, have been offered viable alternatives.

WILLIS (ph): And just a quick follow–up, how many families are still living in trailers? You said 500 will be tested. How many more will not be tested?

STARK: Well, across the Gulf Coast, and that′s Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, we have about 46,000 households in travel trailers and mobile homes.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: We′ll take another question from the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: (INAUDIBLE) WWL TV. I know you said there was no standard, I guess, line, per se, of where it would fall above or below as to the health concerns, but is there a kind of a cutoff point where you guys will insist that people move out, or is it more up to the families themselves that in the immediate range will you guys recommend that people get out at that point?

STARK: Well, at this point, we′re not insisting that anyone move out. We are helping people move on to a permanent solution. Actually concurrently, we′re doing that for the whole population of travel trailers throughout the gulf. We (INAUDIBLE) implemented housing action plan to move people on to permanent solutions, but to get to the answer of a level, I′ll refer to the doctor.

FALK: Yes, and that′s a very important question. I want to make three points on that. One is to reiterate that this really is not what we would consider appropriate long term housing, and we′re totally in agreement with the idea of FEMA′s working with everybody to try to transition to better housing. I mean we – that′s an across the board point.

Secondly, I think for people who have had symptoms, who have been sensitized, who have (INAUDIBLE) problems, people with pre–existing asthma who are going to run into problems like this, I think those are actually probably more urgent reasons, I would think, to relocate them (INAUDIBLE) formaldehyde level. I think you have to recognize that people who are already sensitized, already vulnerable to the effects of formaldehyde and respond to the irritating effect, I mean, those are important things to try to stop those kinds of exposure.

And I think for the people who are not symptomatic we really are concerned about what the formaldehyde levels now might mean for long term health effects, so I don′t think we′re seeing this as somebody must be evicted tomorrow morning because of the, you know, because of this concern, but we are saying that the risks do increase, and particularly at the higher levels, people have been living there for two years. I′m not, you know, up to two years, I′m not about to say that tomorrow or next week that, you know, they have to move out, but we are saying those risks do increase, particularly at the higher levels. They really should transition sooner. They should think with more priority and urgency about the need to relocate if they′re in the higher range, but (INAUDIBLE) OK, thank you.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: We will now take a question from the phone.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Will Dunham with Reuters, your line is open.

WILL DUNHAM, REUTERS: Hello. I just want to double check some numbers, please. So how many occupied trailers are there and how many people, not households, but how many people are living in them, and can you also say on what date is the testing going to begin?

STARK: I′ll take it. This is Jim Stark with FEMA. 46,700 families are currently in travel trailers or mobile homes. I don′t have a breakdown of how many actual people that is. The family size can vary as people move in and out. You could probably multiply that by 2.5 and be safe and come up with about an estimate of 90,000 people in travel trailers and mobile homes.

The testing will begin on the 21st of December.

DUNHAM: OK. And let me also, just a follow–up, could somebody just talk about what are the potential health effects on a person who is exposed to formaldehyde levels? What medical things can happen to that person?

FALK: So this is Henry Falk, and maybe just to briefly summarize that. People can have irritative effects from formaldehyde acutely (INAUDIBLE) eye, nose, throat, membranes and lead to various kinds of irritative symptoms, tearing and so on. They can also have cough and lung problems, and exacerbate things like asthma and so we are concerned particularly for people who have respiratory diseases.

Long term we′re concerned about the potential for sensitization which would again lead to perhaps respiratory or breathing difficulties, and also long term there is literature and occupational studies and an experimental work of potential for long term risk with longer exposures for things like nasal pharyngeal carcinomas, so that′s when we think about the long term risk, we really want to prevent prolonged exposure which would lead to those kinds of concerns, and as a result of that, and you know, that′s why we are still concerned now even for people who don′t have the acute symptoms, don′t have irritative symptoms, don′t appear to be sensitized, but it is important not to be in an environment with the high formaldehyde exposure for a very long term, and we would really want to try to head off the concern about those long term effects.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: Thank you. We′ll have another question from the floor.

GLEN BOYD (ph), ABC 26: Glen Boyd (ph) from ABC 26 here in New Orleans, and Jim, you said that you all did some testing in Baton Rouge. Talk – can you talk about the results of those tests?

STARK: Yes, Glen, I don′t have those specific results with me today. Those tests, as I said, were focused on travel trailers that had not been occupied. We took a sampling of the various manufacturers as the doctor is doing with CDC in the follow on testing now. Our thoughts at that time were that to come up with mitigation measures, you know, test the trailer, see what the levels of air quality was prior to any airing out, turning on a fan, and perhaps trying to lower levels of air quality.

We did find, quite frankly, that there were effective measures to do that by opening the windows, by turning on the air conditioner, by airing out the travel trailers or the mobile home. Those were tests, again, done, I think the summer before last, and those results did give us some ideas on how to mitigate the issue.

BOYD (ph): I just want to follow up from a couple of questions earlier, and the folks watching, as – and I think the first thing they′ll think of is again, you know, 18 months ago. Now we′re testing. People – why, you know, why now? It seems like this should have maybe been done months ago.

FALK: Well, I think the testing now will be helpful. As I tried to say several times, I think there are multiple factors that are important here. One is FEMA′s offer and desire to move everybody to more suitable housing. It′s not that that decision depends on the formaldehyde levels. We′ve tried to say very hard that it′s not the case that everybody should be going to more suitable housing regardless of what we find on the single test.

Secondly, there are other factors that are really important to people in making that decision, such as age of occupants, children and elderly, (INAUDIBLE) you know, people who have pre–existing disease, so there are a lot of factors that go into this decision.

We think the formaldehyde levels with the additional information which will help people, but honestly I think that should be seen as additional information which will be helpful to people. It should not be seen as the be all and end all. The be–all and end–alls we really want to move people into more suitable long term housing. We want them to consider their own particular circumstances, who′s living there, et cetera, and we will provide these formaldehyde levels to help them.

If we need to do more formaldehyde testing after we do this, we will consider that, and (INAUDIBLE) I′d also add briefly to the earlier part of your question, another way in which we are working together with FEMA as part of this broader effort is we are, at the same time that we′re doing this effort, we are also looking at unoccupied trailers in terms of taking them apart, (INAUDIBLE) expert laboratories like (INAUDIBLE) national laboratory to analyze the different kinds of materials in trailers. It′s not going to help anybody immediately, but this will actually, I think, help FEMA for the future if there is a need, hopefully not, but if there ever is a need for this kind of situation, maybe we will learn more about this kind of temporary housing and be able to think about how FEMA or, you know, might be able to get better housing in the future, so we are trying to do multiple efforts. We think the formaldehyde testing now will be helpful to people in making (INAUDIBLE) only factor and we will be trying to also think towards the future, you know, (INAUDIBLE) how to do this better the next time.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: Another question from the floor.

RACHEL WOLFE (ph): Hi. I′m Rachel Wolfe (ph) with (INAUDIBLE) news channel six. We know that there′s lots of studies that have been done at the federal level in regards to lead. Do you see that this study is the first step in a governmental or federal level study about formaldehyde in trailers?

FALK: I think that′s a very important question, and I think going back to my last comment, we′re trying to think about this particular situation, these occupants, these families, they are very pressing and very difficult decisions ahead of them, and to weigh the alternatives of leaving where they are currently living (INAUDIBLE) unknown parts, and so we′re trying to address this issue as best we can right now.

As I said, I think we recognize that if, you know, travel trailers are meant to travel. They′re not meant for long term housing, but I think for an agency like FEMA, responding to emergencies, especially where there may be large dislocations of people, really need to think about how to have, you know, emergency housing. So we want to see if we can evaluate these kinds of trailers, if there′s a way to do this better, and so that′s part of it. So, but again, I think we′re in an unusual circumstance with these travel trailers not meant for long term housing creep into that situation.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: Another question from the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Will this type of sampling procedure become a permanent part of FEMA′s disaster response in future disasters? (INAUDIBLE) temporary housing. In other words, will you put folks in travel trailers and then immediately follow up with tests (INAUDIBLE)

STARK: Don′t know. I don′t think so. I think the idea, as the doctor just explained, is to figure out a way to put people in safe housing from the beginning. As you know, we also put people into mobile homes, which are built to a different standard than the travel trailers, and in a town like New Orleans and in Mississippi, quite frankly, we couldn′t put mobile homes on every lot, and the travel trailer did offer a solution to house 143,000 people across the gulf coast. That was a solution pressed into service to meet an emergency housing need.

Clearly, the travel trailers ought not be a long term housing solution, and we′re looking, as I said, we have a housing action plan to transition all of our temporary housing unit residents, the 46,000 left, into permanent housing solution.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: Thank you. Laura, do we have more questions on the phone?

OPERATOR: We have no questions from the phone lines.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: Alright. Are there any more questions left, follow–up questions, in the room?

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Jim, you talked earlier about 3700 people being moved to more permanent housing. Do we know of any people with complaints who have had to see doctors or any long term effects from the exposure or over exposure to formaldehyde?

STARK: I don′t. What we have done is, again, people called our 1–800 number, and if they had questions about their medical conditions or questions specifically about exposure to formaldehyde, we referred them to the medical experts, the health experts at CDC. If they said – and one of our first questions when they call is do you need to get out of your trailer? Do you feel that your health is threatened, and if they say yes, then we move them into that area of the 3700 and will immediately start looking for alternatives for them.

I don′t have any tracking of those 3700, if they followed up with health professionals and if they have had complaints of – related to the exposure.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: (INAUDIBLE) related to that question (INAUDIBLE) I know you′re going to be testing air samples in the trailers. Are you going to be tallying the people with symptoms in these trailers as well and documenting that somewhere where people can have access to it down the line?

FALK: We′re in the process of doing several things, not in this particular study. In this particular study we′re looking at the formaldehyde levels in trailers (INAUDIBLE) assess that as rapidly as we can and provide that information.

We have had an expert panel, and we have discussed several possibilities in terms of doing evaluations and perhaps longer term follow up of children (INAUDIBLE) who have had symptoms or who haven′t had symptoms, and so we′re in the process of exploring how we might be able to do that, and so I′m hoping to be able to come back to you at some time, maybe a little bit more in the future, and talk about that in more detail. The – so in children, you know, and as I said before, one of the key vulnerable groups, and so that is something we are looking into. It won′t be part of this study. It probably will be a separate effort.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: Final question.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Once you get the test results back, say that you do have a high number of trailers that have a high quantity of formaldehyde, are you prepared to handle the number of complaints and the number of people who may be calling and wanting to move, you know? 500 trailers being tested, but what about the other folks that see this and say, yes, I want a new place to live.

STARK: We′re preparing plans to move as many people that want to move out of those trailers as we can. As you know, and across the whole gulf region, there is incredible pressure on the housing front, and we find that as we try to close our group sites. As you know, we′ve also implemented a month–by–month schedule for closing our group sites. We are finding rental resources out there. We are offering to pay up to 150 percent now of fair market rent to move people out into rental resources and will cover that for a certain amount of time. (INAUDIBLE) is picking up the rental resource program from us, but if there is a need for a mass exodus from the travel trailer and mobile home population, then we′ll need to implement some more innovative solutions, and there has been at the Washington level an inter agency housing task force convened to look at some of those innovative ways to increase the housing stock and how the federal government working closely with state agencies can expand the housing front.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: This concludes the question–and–answer period. We′d like to thank you for coming. We now would ask if you would prepare to exit. We have escorts that will take you to the parking lot where the travel trailer demonstrations – pardon me, where the testing demonstrations will take place. I remind you this is a demonstration. This is not to be perceived as the testing of a trailer. This is for your information. We will have opportunities for cameras to come into the trailer to shoot (INAUDIBLE) and we will have our technical experts on hand to answer your questions.

OPERATOR: And excuse me, Bernadette, we actually just received another question.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: You guys want to take the question? OK, we′ll take one final question from the phone, and then we will proceed to the demonstration. (INAUDIBLE)

OPERATOR: Thank you. Amanda Spake, the Nation Magazine, please go ahead.

AMANDA SPAKE , NATION MAGAZINE: Hi. I′m sorry to keep you, but I′ve been trying to ask a question for 15 minutes and it hasn′t worked.

You said that – you said a couple of things about the testing that was done last summer, I believe, or the summer before in Baton Rouge, and you mentioned that you didn′t have those results, and I just wanted to point out to the media here that those results are available on the internet. They′re on the – one of the CDC agency web sites, the ASTDR web site, but the other thing is that that – you used as a guideline in those tests .3 parts per million formaldehyde in air, as just a guideline to see if that trailer could be aired out successfully, and many of them could not be, couldn′t even reach that level. That′s a very high level. You were asked what you were going to use as some sort of guideline to understand health effects. There is a guideline, is there not, that was established by ASTDR that′s .008 parts per million, and I′m wondering if you aren′t going to be using that, or what kind of guideline are you going to be using? You need to be using something.

I understand that you′re just going to test, but you need to use some kind of guideline, do you not?

FALK: Right. So, yes, and what we look at are two things when we think about how to interpret these levels. One are, as I said, there′s no standard or existing guidelines …

SPAKE: Right.

FALK: … for air in trailers. We have looked at various other government guidelines for formaldehyde in different settings, occupational settings, ATSDR works in various situations where there′s exposure to hazardous waste. They have developed guidelines, ATSDR, NIOSH, OSHA and others, so we have incorporated those guidelines into the – into this chart of – so that the range of exposure levels as to, you know, what is higher and what is lower. The .008 which fits with scale here is eight parts per billion, we would definitely consider, you know, that′s in the lower range and some level that′s found in many parts of the cities and many buildings. It′s probably the most protective of all the different numbers you mentioned.

Secondly, we also take into account at what levels people have reported individuals developing symptoms in the past, so I think, you know, for people who have been sensitized, they′re probably somewhere about 300 is where people who have been sensitized will react, so not having a specific bright line, a specific standard, we have tried by shading to in some way synthesize what we know about other guidelines, about other information on health effects, into what we would consider a higher range and a lower range, so we have thought that through, but we have not tried to use a single number for interpretation.

SPAKE: Well, (INAUDIBLE) let me just clarify. The .008 figure that we′re discussing, I thought that was the figure for full time living, 365 days, 24 hours a day.

FALK: Yes, but it′s – that′s …

SPAKE: I understand it′s low.

FALK: (INAUDIBLE) number, it′s not put together for trailers, it′s not meant to be a standard in trailers …


FALK: … and they – we have considered that together with other numbers that have been put together for (INAUDIBLE) and others in occupational settings, and we′ve tried to utilize those numbers to consider what is .008 would be a wonderfully protective number for people who come in at that level. Other numbers come in higher and maybe are more likely to be associated with effects, so we have tried to incorporate that information, but not try to do this as there is a single standard for formaldehyde in trailers.

SPAKE: Sure. But if you′re using occupational standards, many of those standards are based on people wearing respirators, is that not true?

FALK: Well, those are for exposure settings and as I said, we don′t have a standard for air in trailers. We can look at standards that are in different settings, we can look at what we know about symptoms, and we try to synthesize that in the information we′ve put together as to what we would interpret as higher and what we would interpret as lower.

SPAKE: And is this information higher and lower, is this on the CDC web site?

FALK: This is in the packet of materials that you have.

SPAKE: OK. I don′t have them because I′m on the phone.

FALK: (INAUDIBLE) Bernadette can arrange for that.

SPAKE: Thank you.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: We can provide that to you. Laura, are there any additional questions before we close out?

OPERATOR: We have no further questions.

BERNADETTE BURDEN: Alright. Again, we thank you for coming. We thank our colleagues as well as our visitors on the phone. If you would not proceed to the parking lot, we will proceed with the demonstration. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. This does conclude today′s conference call. We thank you for your participation.




  • Historical Document: December 13, 2007
  • Content source: Office of the Associate Director for Communication
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