Image: FEMA trailers
Danny Johnston  /  AP
Some of about 20,000 mobile homes and travel trailers owned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency sit at the Hope Municipal Airport near Hope, Ark., in this March 2007 photo.
updated 7/23/2007 8:49:53 PM ET 2007-07-24T00:49:53

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will keep selling and donating surplus disaster-relief trailers despite concerns that they may have unhealthy levels of formaldehyde, the agency said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Health Affairs plan to test the air quality in the trailers.

“Potential buyers/recipients will be fully advised of the concerns regarding formaldehyde levels in travel trailers,” FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker said Friday in an e-mail message to The Associated Press.

FEMA drew the ire of Congress last week after documents revealed that the agency’s lawyers discouraged investigating reports that the trailers had high formaldehyde levels.

Formaldehyde, a common preservative and embalming fluid, sometimes is found in building materials that are used in manufactured homes. The chemical can cause respiratory problems and possibly cancer in high doses or with prolonged exposure.

FEMA provided about 120,000 travel trailers to victims of 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita. More than 56,000 of them are still occupied in Mississippi and Louisiana, and others are being held in reserve for future disasters, Walker said.

“Before FEMA sells any more of these or gives these to people ... each trailer needs to be tested. If it comes in over the limit, it shouldn’t be sold or given away until the formaldehyde is remediated,” said Becky Gillette of the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club.

'Utmost urgency'
CDC officials are traveling to New Orleans for a “very preliminary fact-finding” meeting Tuesday with FEMA officials, said centers spokeswoman Dagny Olivares. The CDC delegation will include at least one medical epidemiologist.

Olivares couldn’t say when the CDC plans to start testing the air quality in FEMA trailers.

“It depends on how the study is designed,” she said. “Everybody is working with the utmost urgency.”

FEMA has disposed of 18,562 travel trailers “through authorized disposal methods,” Walker said. The General Services Administration handles the sale or donation of the trailers.

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