Federal FEMA trailer investigation could impact Iowans - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Federal FEMA trailer investigation could impact Iowans

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -- Federal lawmakers are looking into the sale of more than 100,000 FEMA trailers since the beginning of the year. The trailers were used following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In 2007, they were deemed "unsafe for living."

You likely remember hearing about these trailers a few years ago. Families living in them reportedly got sick from formaldehyde. In order for FEMA to sell the homes in January 2010, they had to include a warning for the homes not to be used for housing.

Iowa's 1st District Congressman Bruce Braley spoke during Wednesday's congressional hearing. He is concerned about the health risks down the line for the auctioned homes. Braley wants his fellow lawmakers to know, this problem impacts Iowans as well as those living on the Gulf Coast.

A few dozen empty FEMA trailers make up a sort-of ghost town in Dike. Less than two years ago, the homes were among hundreds brought to storm victims in Iowa. And like their southern counterparts, many of the trailers raised health concerns.

"More than 100 FEMA provided trailers in Iowa were infected with mold," Braley noted.

The primary goal of Wednesday's congressional hearing was to review the sale of a select group of hazardous units. But the controversial deal brought up a bigger issue. As far as Braley knows, at this point all of the buildings stored in Dike are perfectly safe to live in -- at least by FEMA standards. But he's concerned those standards are not high enough.

"We know that, right now, the EPA does not regulate formaldehyde except in the manufactured home area...So we have to look at this gap in oversight and regulation for formaldehyde emissions," said Braley.

He points out, these trailers are temporary shelter, but they're also a safe-haven for families following a disaster.

"We still have to make sure we are not putting people out of a very bad and difficult situation into something that's going to make them sick," he said.

Braley expects some kind of legislation to come out of the meeting. He'd like to see tougher restrictions on formaldehyde use in temporary trailers. Braley also noted -- his team will be looking into the plans for the trailers sitting in Dike.

Another issue brought out of Wednesday's congressional hearing - the amount the homes were sold for. Braley reported, FEMA received about ten cents on the dollar for each trailer.

"If those trailers were worth market value, and have not been significantly damaged or destroyed as a result of their usage, you would think they would have a greater value," he said.

We contacted FEMA early this afternoon to find out who purchased the units, and if any were sold to Iowans. They could not come up with the information within the eight hours given on Wednesday.

Online Reporter Colleen O'Shaughnessy

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