A BUZZFLASH NEWS ALERT
by Meg White
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) get residents out of government-issued temporary housing units as soon as possible. The CDC cited environmental hazards as the reason, telling FEMA to start moving high-risk populations such as children, asthmatics, and the elderly as soon as possible.
Victims of Hurricane Katrina residing in trailers and mobile homes issued almost three years ago by FEMA could already be developing serious health problems due to their living arrangements, according to the CDC study.
The CDC released a report Wednesday saying formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers and mobile homes serving the Gulf Coast regions are higher than in average homes in the U.S. Formaldehyde is the gaseous form of a chemical used in many building materials and has been shown to cause cancer and respiratory problems.
The report comes a week before CDC officials are scheduled to testify on FEMA trailers before the House Oversight Committee.
Nearly one year ago, private testing on formaldehyde levels performed by the Sierra Club indicated the trailers were a risky living arrangement, but this is the first government study to confirm the danger. Back in July 2006, Co-Chair of the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club Becky Gillette was quoted as being highly disappointed in the government’s inability to move Katrina victims out of the trailers:
“It’s simply wrong that the government would spend billions of dollars to poison people in these toxic tin cans.”
The CDC noted that their results may underestimate long-term harm to residents. The study was conducted in December and January, and warmer weather can contribute to the release of formaldehyde. Also, the current levels may not be representative of exposure risks, as newer trailers tend to give off more formaldehyde and the trailers tested were two years old.
Normal U.S. homes have formaldehyde levels between 10 and 50 parts per billion, according to FEMA. While the trailers’ levels varied by type, all of the housing units the CDC tested showed formaldehyde at levels that are hazardous to “sensitive persons,” at or around 100 parts per billion.
However, Katrina victims may have a hard time finding safer living arrangements. According to the National Housing Institute, affordable housing in the Gulf Coast area is severely scarce.
Physical ailments may not be the only reason for Katrina victims to go house-hunting. A recent National Public Radio series brought the mental health of residents of FEMA trailers into focus. Reporter Alix Spiegel’s gut-wrenching interviews with residents and ominous discussions with counselors and governmental officials working in the area were produced thanks to a grant from the Rosalyn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ALERT