July 21st, 2007 06:05 EST
FEMA, Statement of Administrator R. David Paulison
Over the last two months, FEMA has significantly increased its focus on formaldehyde-related health concerns raised by Gulf Coast disaster victims. These individuals reside in FEMA-provided travel trailers and mobile homes in the Gulf States.
Formaldehyde is a common indoor air pollutant that can be found in nearly all homes and buildings. It is a colorless gas that is released into the home from a variety of indoor sources. Formaldehyde can also be found in a variety of materials used in home construction and products for everyday living. FEMA has received a relatively small but meaningful number of inquiries from residents of FEMA trailers who have had medical symptoms possibly related to formaldehyde fumes.
Today I am announcing several steps FEMA has taken to address these concerns and to work more closely with residents who may have concerns about formaldehyde exposure. These include:
Air Quality Testing and Research. Pursuant to a plan under development for several weeks, health experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Health Affairs will conduct a preliminary field study that will test air quality conditions in FEMA-purchased housing units under real-life conditions. Testing will begin on Tuesday, July 24, 2007. In addition, the CDC team is comprehensively reviewing known research in order to provide FEMA with advice about the safety of environmental conditions in travel trailers. We are also looking into engineering solutions that may be available effectively to remove environmental pollutants from the trailers.
Additional Outreach to Travel Trailer Occupants. Beginning tomorrow, Saturday, July 21, 2007, FEMA will distribute a formaldehyde and housing fact sheet (see attached) to the occupants of each FEMA travel trailer and mobile home in the four Gulf States. Currently 64,805 households occupy these units in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Ninety-seven percent of these units are located in Louisiana and Mississippi. This fact sheet will provide basic information about formaldehyde, its possible medical effects and contacts for further assistance. Similar information was provided to residents of all FEMA trailers in the Gulf last year. The new brochure is also available at www.fema.gov.
Dedicated Toll-Free Help Line. Beginning at noon EDT on Saturday, July 21, 2007, FEMA will open a toll-free telephone line to serve residents of its travel trailers and mobile homes in the Gulf States. Operators from CDC and FEMA will be available to answer questions about the formaldehyde-related issues and associated FEMA housing concerns. The toll-free number is 1-866-562-2381 (TTY 1-800-462-7585).
Medical Community Outreach. The DHS Chief Medical Officer will contact state health officials in the region to share information about FEMA’s communications with occupants of FEMA trailers and mobile homes.
Reinforcing FEMA’s Commitment to the Public. Earlier this week, I was troubled to learn that some FEMA employees may have not acted with the speed and sensitivity I expect in addressing the concerns raised by some victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I will deal with these issues swiftly. FEMA’s first priority is the health and welfare of disaster victims we serve. Anything less is totally unacceptable.
I know that the FEMA team I am privileged to lead does hold sacred this same commitment. Today I am communicating directly to all FEMA employees to reinforce this essential message.