JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Days after the Federal Emergency Management Agency's chief spokesman said concerns about formaldehyde would not stop the agency from selling or donating surplus disaster trailers, FEMA said Tuesday that it is reviewing the policy.
FEMA headquarters issued an advisory to media outlets on Tuesday that said the agency is “reviewing a number of policies related to travel trailers, including the status of sales and donations.”
FEMA provided about 120,000 travel trailers to victims of the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some occupants last year began reporting illnesses, including nosebleeds and headaches.
The agency recently sent about 40 of the trailers to Miami, Okla., where residents were forced to leave their homes because of recent flooding.
Congressional leaders were outraged after documents revealed that FEMA lawyers had discouraged the agency from investigating reports that some trailers had high levels of formaldehyde.
FEMA's chief spokesman, Aaron Walker, told The Associated Press in an e-mail late Friday that the agency would continue to sell or donate the trailers, and that recipients “will be fully advised of the concerns regarding formaldehyde levels.”
Tuesday's advisory said the report quoting Walker was in error. Walker confirmed Tuesday that he had made the statement in his e-mail but added: “All of the policies are under review right now.”
He did not say when FEMA had changed its position.
“The problem is the formaldehyde issue is very dynamic right now. It's very fluid,” Walker said.
Formaldehyde, a common preservative, sometimes is found in building materials used in manufactured homes. It can cause respiratory problems and cancer in high doses or with prolonged exposure.
In his Friday e-mail, Walker said FEMA has disposed of 18,562 travel trailers “through authorized disposal methods.” The General Services Administration handles the sale or donation of the trailers.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Tuesday that he was sending FEMA Director R. David Paulison a letter reminding him that the trailers are dangerous and shouldn't be occupied.
“I think it's absolutely shocking to the conscience that they would even consider selling these trailers or giving them away,” Cummings said.
Representatives from FEMA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were in Louisiana and Mississippi this week for fact-finding meetings, Walker said.
“They're not necessarily checking air quality, but they're checking mitigating factors. They're trying to determine the scope,” he said. “They're going to be coming up with parameters for this larger test, which may begin in three weeks.”
Since Saturday, about 800 residents of federally issued trailers on the Gulf Coast had called a FEMA health line, said Jim Stark, the director of FEMA's Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office.