CDC, FEMA Address Media on Formaldehyde
Representatives from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) met with media Thursday (Feb. 14), outlining results and ensuing procedures following random formaldehyde testing on trailers used in emergency relief for hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
One of the more poignant announcements for the recreational vehicle industry is that FEMA would no longer use travel trailers for emergency housing. Earlier, FEMA had tentatively suspended the use of trailers while also ceasing online sales of used units from the 2005 storms.
“We will not use trailers again,” said FEMA Administrator David Paulison, noting that FEMA had a 20-plus year history of employing trailers in relief efforts. “They are too small and do not work well in these situations. They are not good alternative housing.”
He said that they were looking at using manufactured homes that had been tested and “Katrina Cottages,” a relatively new initiative calling for smaller structures able to withstand 150 mph winds.
When questioned about the “manufacturing process,” Paulison said that FEMA was working with the CDC to evaluate units, including “taking apart trailers” that were supplied by OEMs.
Although there is no federal regulation on formaldehyde emissions in travel trailers, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) last fall adopted a 0.2 ppm limit on plywood used in trailer construction and 0.3 ppm for particle board, the same standards set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for manufactured homes.
Both CDC Director Julie Gerberding and Paulison noted that the duration – some residents had occupied trailers for nearly three years – and the amount of trailers required were unprecedented. Paulison estimated that 144,000 trailers had been distributed to areas along the Gulf Coast, primarily in Louisiana and Mississippi.
In her remarks, Gerberding stressed that there was a “great variability” in testing performed on 519 trailers. She said the majority showed relatively low levels of formaldehyde outgassing, one-third had levels that may affect those more susceptible such as infants, the elderly or people with asthma, and around 5% had “higher levels.” She noted that other factors could “confuse the data,” such as cigarette smoke, cleaning products or other household goods that contain formaldehyde.
Topping the list of priorities was to relocate those residents still in trailers before summer as heat can aggravate fume levels. Paulison said that since November, 15,000 families had been moved and that around 38,000 trailers remained occupied. He noted that of those, approximately 30,000 were on private property and were being used while residents rebuilt.
“These people are not in the units as much,” he said. “We estimate the number of trailers on group sites at around 5,000 to 6,000.”
Other steps going forward include going door-to-door to residents in trailers that had been tested and laying out results.
“The government is going to reach out to these people,” Gerberding said. “We will have experts delivering this information. We will also form large community groups to address people not involved in the testing.”
Gerberding indicated that further testing and analysis would follow. “There are still a lot of questions about formaldehyde,” she said.