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CDC to FEMA: Empty The Trailers Before They Get Hot

The Centers for Disease Control on Thursday urged FEMA to evacuate hurricane refugees from 38,000 trailer homes they’ve been occupying for up to two years. It warned that formaldehyde levels in the trailers were up to 60 times higher than normal and averaged about five times the normal level. ”Long-term exposure to levels in this range can be linked to an increased risk of cancer,” said CDC Director Julie Gerberding. ”We think it’s wise for people to be relocated before the hot weather arrives in summer.” She added that the elderly, children, and people with respiratory illnesses should be moved first. Higher temperatures cause the release of more formaldehyde into the air from the trailers’ wood panels.

FEMA Administrator David Paulison responded that FEMA would “provide information to our residents in an expedited manner.” He said the emergency management agency was moving people out of the trailers at a rate of 800-1,000 per week. In the meantime, Gerberding said, residents should stay outside as much as possible, and keep their windows open.

In an earlier post, we noted that a scientist at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which comes under CDC’s wing, had been punished for drawing attention to the carcinogenic threat from high exposures to formaldehyde.

A Democratic overseer said the CDC statement “should have been made more than a year ago. … These agencies knew since the spring of 2006 that Hurricane Katrina and Rita victims living in those trailers were getting sick.” FEMA delayed credibile testing of the trailers, and the CDC failed to look at the health consequences of exposure to formaldehyde, added Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tennessee.

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