The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will begin testing Dec. 21 for formaldehyde in a sampling of trailers FEMA provided for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA and the CDC announced today.
The testing is scheduled to take 35 days, when results will be shared with residents. A final report will be made public in mid-May, the agencies said.
Dr. Henry Falk, director of CDC's Coordinating Center for Environmental Health and Injury Prevention, said 500 trailers will be tested. He said that number was chosen because it allows a representative sample of 11 types of trailers by different manufacturers. Scientists, accompanied by FEMA officials, will go to trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi proportional to the number of occupied trailers in each state.
There are about 46,000 families in FEMA travel trailers and mobile homes across the Gulf Coast.
Jim Stark, director of FEMA's Transitional Recovery Office in New Orleans, said FEMA has received 6,700 calls to its hotline from families concerned about formaldehyde levels since reports of poisonous levels came out 18 months ago. He said 3,700 of those families have already asked to move out because of those concerns.
Falk said there's no clear standard for dangerous levels of formaldehyde, just general guidelines. FEMA and CDC will use the results of the tests to generally advise families, but won't use any findings to forceably evict anyone, Stark said.
Formaldehyde exposure can affect eye, nose and throat membranes and cause irritation, cough and respiratory problems, Falk said. The effects can vary widely, though, Falk said, depending on the age of residents, their pre-existing health risks and how long they generally spend in the trailers.