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Trailers given to US disaster victims unsafe: CDC

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 14, 2008
Mobile homes provided to victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 contain unsafe levels of cancer-causing chemicals and the 39,000 families still living in them should be relocated as soon as possible, health officials said Thursday.

The announcement, which came months after federal officials insisted the trailers were safe despite scores of complaints from residents suffering from a host of health problems, renewed criticism of the Bush administration's botched handling of the disaster.

"Every day we learn more and more about the Bush administration's catastrophic failure to respond to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina," Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said in a statement.

"Instead of deploying the resources required to save lives and rebuild communities, the administration consistently cut corners and buried the truth."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bought some 145,000 trailers to be used as temporary housing following Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the US Gulf Coast in August of 2005, killing about 1,500 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

Reports of formaldehyde in the trailers surfaced in March 2006 but FEMA did not initiate air quality tests until a congressional investigation was launched last summer.

The tests, which were not conducted until December, found that average formaldehyde levels were about five times higher than normal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

This average level is high enough to raise the risk of cancer with long-term exposure and since poor air circulation and hot weather increase formaldehyde levels the CDC hastened to say it represents simply a "snapshot."

"We're making the recommendation that all of the people in these situations be relocated to safer, permanent housing as quickly as possible," CDC director Julie Gerberding said at a press conference.

The CDC will be setting up a registry of people who have lived in the mobile homes and trailers in order to track the long-term impacts of chronic exposure, she said.

Gerberding also warned that it is also important "that people not smoke inside their trailer or anywhere for that matter, because tobacco not only contains formaldehyde but it also increases airway irritation and this makes people more susceptible to the effects of formaldehyde."

FEMA has continued to deploy them to disaster sites elsewhere in the country.

Last month, FEMA issued a statement denying allegations that it had suppressed or tried to influence reports on formaldehyde levels and insisted that every person who had contacted its formaldehyde call centers was offered an immediate move to a hotel or motel.

"As a result of these preliminary findings, FEMA's going to continue our aggressive action to provide for the safety and well being of the residents of these travel trailers by finding them alternative housing," said FEMA administrator David Paulison.

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911 Calls Offer Potential Early Warning System
La Jolla CA (SPX) Feb 14, 2008
When confronted with emergencies or natural disasters, such as the wildfires that raged through San Diego and Los Angeles counties last October or the tornadoes that hit the southern U.S. last week, residents often dial 9-1-1 as their first course of action.

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