FEMA insists Iowa trailers are safe - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

FEMA insists Iowa trailers are safe

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Cedar Rapids (KWWL) -- FEMA is defending its temporary housing for Iowa flood victims after tests found high levels of the chemical preservative formaldehyde.

FEMA ran into similar problems with high levels of formaldehyde found in trailers used for victims of hurricane Katrina. But FEMA says the trailers here in Iowa are more than safe.

"That testing protocol and those units are probably the safest ones in Iowa from a formaldehyde emissions standpoint," said David Garrett, with FEMA disaster assistance.

That reassurance from FEMA officials comes after tests on 20 trailers in Cedar Rapids found high levels of formaldehyde in six of them. But FEMA stands by its original testing

"We found this was a very reliable method and from that I hear, the samples that were taken here in Iowa did not use this type of methodology," said Dr. Merritt Lake, with the Department of Homeland Security's Office on Health Affairs

The agency argues the new tests are incomplete and do not account for variables introduced by people living in the homes.

"In such activities as cooking, as smoking, the introduction of various forms of household products can all elevate formaldehyde," said Garrett.

Formaldehyde is widely used in manufacturing and some level of it is present in most of the items in your home right now. But prolonged exposure to high levels of the chemical can cause breathing trouble, eye, nose and throat irritation -- and may cause cancer.

That's cause for concern to Governor Chet Culver -- who wants FEMA to retest all 542 trailers in place for Cedar Rapids flood victims.

"We have certain state standards that must be met before families can move into these houses," said Gov. Culver. "In more than 500 cases, in all the cases where families moved in, the homes met that test. Obviously, ongoing monitoring is required."

FEMA has not decided if it will re-test but is providing tips to reduce formaldehyde levels. If those living in a trailer want to find other housing -- FEMA says it will help but the person may have to pay for it themselves. And FEMA says even the reported high levels of formaldehyde in trailers are the same as the air quality in many cities.

"120 to 150 parts per billion, which is the normal outdoor air in the Los Angeles Valley," said Dr. Lake.

FEMA has already replaced dozens of mobile homes after finding mold in exterior closets. That prompted all FEMA homes to be re-inspected.

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