'New FEMA' to Send 50 Mobile Homes to California

Their doctor finally advised testing the first mobile home and found .18 ppm of formaldehyde, nearly double the EPA limit.

FEMA replaced that home with another mobile home that has also tested over the limit, but the government has still not acted, she said.

"FEMA knew they had issues with the trailers," said Huckabee. "I hope the people of California don't take a 'lay down and take it' approach of people down here. I am grateful about what I have in times of disaster, but giving mobile homes with problems will open them up to huge lawsuits."

After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA purchased about 102,000 travel trailers at a cost of $2.6 billion to house flood victims. Some waited months to get their trailers, only to find out that the cheap building materials used were releasing toxic formaldehyde vapors.

Some of those living in the trailers reported experiencing irritated eyes, breathing problems, headaches, nausea or skin rashes, some after only five minutes.

Several government agencies set varying standards on exposure to formaldehyde. Construction of mobile homes is guided by standards set by the Department of Housing and Development, but there are no limits for recreational vehicles like travel trailers.

"There has been an issue with the travel trailers, but we have met or exceeded the standard HUD sets for mobile homes," according to FEMA's McIntyre, who confirmed that the emergency homes bound for California had never been used or tested.

"Sierra has an agenda," he said. "All these units are built with formaldehyde? It's part of the process," he said referring to the fact that some amounts of formaldehyde is allowed.

Hurricane victims still occupy more than 56,000 trailer units, according to the Sierra Club, which says FEMA has taken only limited steps to ensure their safety.

McIntyre acknowledges people are still living in the suspect trailers, but said "we are in the process of aggressively moving them to other types of housing," he said.

FEMA also said it is awaiting evaluations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the dangers posed by formaldehyde.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., had tried to obtain mobile homes from the same Arkansas facility as the California-bound units for housing on Native American reservation lands. Before delivery, he sent a letter to FEMA director David Paulison after hearing about risks.

"Specifically as it applies to mobile homes, what has FEMA done to ensure formaldehyde levels are safe for long term habitation?" he wrote. "Will air quality testing be done on each mobile home before they are distributed to ensure no related threats arise in tribal mobile homes?"

"He did have concerns and was told the mobile homes met HUD guidelines," said Johnson's communications director Julianne Fisher.

The travel trailer industry, long known for its lax construction practices, is once again using cheaper but banned formaldehyde-based materials, a practice that was outlawed in the United States more than 20 years ago, according to Thad Godish, a professor of environmental science at Indiana's Ball State University.

"It's a nasty gas and is immediately recognizable," said Godish, who testified in the consumer lawsuits of the 1980s.

The Occupational Safety and Health Organization limits exposure in the workplace, up to .75 parts per million for an eight-hour day, but the EPA says that at air levels of .10 or above, "acute health effects can occur."

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