FEMA is stepping up plans to move Gulf Coast hurricane victims out of their government-issue trailers because of high levels of formaldehyde. Some questions and answers about the situation.
_ How many trailers are involved?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says 25,162 trailers are still occupied in Louisiana, 10,362 in Mississippi. The trailers were made by several companies. Some were made specially for FEMA.
_ Why are so many people still in trailers 2 1/2 years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita?
Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, and wiped out coastal counties in Mississippi. While Mississippi's recovery has been more robust, red tape and underestimates of the cost of rebuilding in Louisiana have kept thousands from returning to their homes. Rental housing in many areas is scarce or expensive. For many people, the trailers have been the only option.
_ What's the health risk?
Commonly used in manufactured homes, formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems and has been linked to cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said the test results can't be used to draw any conclusions about other mobile homes.
_ When did occupants first report health problems?
In 2006, some trailer occupants began reporting headaches and nosebleeds. Other have reported difficulty breathing. Lawyers for hundreds of storm victims charge trailer makers produced inferior products in a rush to fill FEMA's demand for thousands of units. Several consolidated cases against trailer makers are before a U.S. District Court judge in New Orleans.
_ Why did it take so long to act?
Documents released last July after being subpoenaed by a congressional committee indicated FEMA lawyers discouraged officials from pursuing reports the trailers had dangerous levels of formaldehyde. At the time, Democrats and Republicans criticized FEMA for its limited inspections or tests of trailers whose occupants reported various respiratory problems. CDC testing began in December.
_ How rapidly are people being moved from trailers?
FEMA says 800 to 1,000 households move out, on average, per week. FEMA's new plan, announced Thursday, does not provide a timeline for getting everyone out of the trailers though it hopes to have the task done by summer. The elderly, infirm, families with children and people with respiratory ailments are expected to get priority.
_ What's FEMA's process?
FEMA is trying to move trailer residents to apartments or other housing, including hotels, motels and small post-storm houses called "Katrina cottages." It's a multitiered process, like so many other recovery programs, and it is unclear how soon residents will be able to move. Priority will go to those who have health problems or are at risk, such as the elderly, households with young children and people with respiratory ailments.
_ I live in a FEMA trailer. What are my options?
FEMA staff is available to discuss housing concerns at 1-866-562-2381 or 1-800-621-3362. CDC specialists will respond to health concerns at 1-800-232-4636.