FEMA Moves Hurricane Victims Out of Trailers over Health Complaints
NEW ORLEANS -- About 1,000 Louisiana families have asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to move them out of government-issued trailers and mobile homes over concerns that the shelters are contaminated, FEMA officials said Thursday.
Jim Stark, director of FEMA's Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office, said the agency already has moved -- or is moving -- about 140 of the families into apartments at the agency's expense.
To accommodate others, FEMA has identified roughly 6,500 apartment units across the state that meet the agency's "fair-market value guidelines," according to Stark.
"We're going to try to move people where they can fit," he told The Associated Press during an interview Thursday.
With roughly 43,000 Louisiana families still living in FEMA trailers and mobile homes following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, officials are investigating complaints that the units are exposing occupants to dangerous levels of formaldehyde, which can cause respiratory problems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is developing plans to test the air quality inside FEMA trailers, but those tests haven't started yet, a CDC spokesman said Thursday.
Gil Jamieson, FEMA's associate administrator for Gulf Coast recovery, said one problem with conducting air-quality tests is the absence of national standards for acceptable levels of formaldehyde in trailers.
"FEMA is a consumer of these products just as, quite frankly, anyone else is," he said. "We bear responsibility because we're putting disaster victims in them, but it's really not our place or our mission to be a standard-setting organization."
In Mississippi, 461 households have asked to be moved to an apartment or other housing because of the formaldehyde concerns, said FEMA spokesman Robert Josephson. To date, he said, 83 had been relocated but about 25 more households are scheduled to move at the beginning of September when apartments become available.
There are 17,382 families living in trailers and mobile homes in Mississippi, down from 45,818, Josephson said.
FEMA has temporarily suspended the sale of its trailers and said it won't be using them to house victims of future disasters until safety concerns are addressed.
In the meantime, hundreds of trailer occupants in Louisiana are suing trailer manufacturers, accusing the companies of jeopardizing their health by providing FEMA with poorly constructed campers.
One of the lawsuits, filed earlier this month in federal court, claims manufacturers set up assembly lines and produced trailers in as little as 10 minutes in a profit-driven rush to meet FEMA's demand for tens of thousands of campers after the 2005 storms.
Source: Associated Press