FEMA won't pull trailers off market

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it will continue to sell or donate surplus Hurricane Katrina trailers despite the possibility of high formaldehyde levels in the dwellings.

"However, potential buyers/recipients will be fully advised of the concerns regarding formaldehyde levels in travel trailers," FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

A Mississippi environmental group wants the practice to end until there is evidence from testing showing there's no formaldehyde threat. Prolonged exposure to the chemical can cause respiratory and other problems, health officials say.

"Before FEMA sells any more of these or gives these to people ... each trailer needs to be tested. If it comes in over the limit, it shouldn't be sold or given away until the formaldehyde is remediated," said Becky Gillette of the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club.

FEMA drew the ire of Capitol Hill Democrats and Republicans last week after documents revealed that government lawyers discouraged investigating reports of high formaldehyde levels in the trailers that still house thousands of Mississippi and Louisiana victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are traveling to New Orleans for a "very preliminary fact-finding" meeting Tuesday with FEMA officials, said CDC spokeswoman Dagny Olivares. The CDC delegation will include at least one medical epidemiologist.

Olivares couldn't say when the CDC plans to start testing the air quality in FEMA trailers.

"It depends on how the study is designed," she said. "Everybody is working with the utmost urgency."

Walker said FEMA has disposed of 18,562 travel trailers "through authorized disposal methods." The General Services Administration handles the sale or donation of the trailers, Walker said.

More than 56,000 travel trailers are still occupied by victims of the hurricanes, and others are being held in reserve for future disasters, Walker said.

In May 2006, Gillette's organization issued a nonscientific report saying its tests revealed high formaldehyde emissions in dozens of trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Gillette said the Sierra Club has been contacted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, a branch of the CDC because "they wanted information on how we were doing the testing."

Several agencies in Mississippi have received surplus trailers, including the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Department of Public Safety and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said MEMA spokeswoman Lea Stokes.

Gillette said her organization is now working with the Texas Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to test trailers that agency received from FEMA.

"We did some cooperative testing with them, and by the standards, virtually none of those campers are fit to be lived in," Gillette said.

The Texas Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks purchased 37 FEMA trailers with plans to use them for wildlife research and temporary services, said agency spokesman Tom Harvey.

Harvey said Texas health officials will give their input "before we allow our staff to live or work in these trailers."

"We just want to make sure they are safe. We have pulled everybody out of the trailers," Harvey said.