FEMA Air Quality Testing Issues
FEMA is working with health and environmental experts at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct air quality assessments of temporary housing units issued after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
As part of that study, the Centers for Disease Control will oversee indoor air quality testing of randomly selected temporary housing units in Mississippi and Louisiana. Testing was to have begun the first week of November, but previously scheduled appointments have been postponed until health and environmental experts finalize the testing process and action levels for responding to the results of the testing are determined. The testing will begin once these matters have been resolved.
Meanwhile, FEMA continues to work actively with all residents to help them move them out of temporary housing units and into more permanent housing that fits their individual needs. More than one-quarter of the occupants who have asked to be relocated from travel trailer units have moved to long-term housing, and the remaining households are evaluating their housing options.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.
NEW ORLEANS — Lawyers for a group of hurricane victims living in government-issued trailers are asking a federal judge to order the Federal Emergency Management Agency to test the housing units for hazardous fumes.
Earlier this month, FEMA postponed plans to test the air quality in its travel trailers for levels of formaldehyde. The chemical, a common preservative found in materials used to build manufactured homes, can cause respiratory illnesses and is classified as a carcinogen.
FEMA says it needs more time to prepare before scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta begin the formaldehyde tests, which were scheduled to start in Mississippi on Nov. 2.
However, attorneys for trailer occupants in Louisiana claim FEMA's delay in testing the trailers is jeopardizing the health of thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
In court papers filed Friday, the trailer occupants' lawyers asked a federal judge in New Orleans to issue a preliminary injunction that would compel FEMA to begin the tests. The injunction also calls for FEMA to immediately comply with any trailer occupant's request to move out of a unit and into alternative housing.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Englehardt did not immediately rule on their requests.
"Without this Court's intervention," the storm victims' attorneys wrote, "FEMA will continue to delay and this national public health emergency will continue unabated."
FEMA spokesman Michael Widomski, who would not comment on the litigation, said a date to start the tests has not been set. "We're continuing to work with the CDC," he added.
Roy Rodney, Jr., a New Orleans-based attorney who filed the motion for an injunction, said the formaldehyde tests are a "matter of critical public health."
"It's important to understand what the level of exposure is, particularly in regard to children," he said. "Children are the most at risk, more so than adults."
In Louisiana and Mississippi, more than 48,000 FEMA trailers were occupied this month by victims of the 2005 hurricanes. Reacting to residents' health concerns, FEMA has moved hundreds of families in both states out of trailers and into apartments, hotel rooms or other temporary housing.
FEMA also has temporarily suspended the sale of its used trailers and says the units won't be used to shelter victims of future disasters until the safety concerns are resolved.
Hundreds of Gulf Coast residents are suing trailer manufacturers for allegedly providing FEMA with poorly constructed units contaminated by formaldehyde. Several of those federal lawsuits in Louisiana were consolidated on Oct. 24 and transferred to Englehardt, who scheduled a Jan. 18 initial hearing on the litigation.
8 a.m.: FEMA Ordered To Submit Air Quality Plan
December 4, 2007
NEW ORLEANS, La -- A federal judge in Louisiana has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to submit a detailed plan for testing the air quality in government-issued trailers in Mississippi.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt says FEMA and its top administrator, R. David Paulison, have until Dec. 17 to respond to court papers filed by a group of trailer occupants who want the air-quality tests to begin immediately.
On Nov. 2, federal scientists were scheduled to start testing FEMA trailers in Mississippi for levels of formaldehyde.
FEMA postponed those tests, however, saying it needed more time to prepare.
FEMA spokeswoman Mary Margaret Walker said Monday that the tests are expected to begin "soon," but she couldn't elaborate and wouldn't comment on the judge's order.