For Immediate Release - May 23, 2008
Contact: Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512-477-2152
New Emergency Housing Cottages in Mississippi Test High for Toxic Formaldehyde
Sierra Club Tests Suggest that Agencies' “Solution” is Not a Solution
Gulfport, MS: The Mississippi Cottages developed as an alternative to the toxic Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers and mobile homes may have unacceptably high formaldehyde levels themselves, according to test results released today by the Sierra Club in Mississippi.
Responding to concerns about travel trailers being cramped, uncomfortable and making disaster victims sick, FEMA granted $281 million to the State of Mississippi to develop FEMA’s Alternative Housing Program to develop safer and more comfortable emergency housing for victims of natural disasters. The contracts granted by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), however, went to some of the same manufacturers that produced the toxic FEMA mobile homes.
“With the start of hurricane season upon us, all we ask is for safe, healthy, emergency housing,” said Becky Gillette, formaldehyde campaign director for Sierra Club. “We understand that MEMA has plans to test the Mississippi Cottages, and we urge the agency to require manufacturers to remediate any units with high formaldehyde levels.”
Sierra Club, working with WLOX ABC Channel 13 in Gulfport, recently tested five Mississippi Cottages using kits from Advanced Chemical Sensors. Three of the Cottages came in over 0.1 parts per million (ppm), the level at which the EPA and American Lung Association say health effects can occur. The other two Cottages tested above the long-term exposure limits recommended by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
The Mississippi Cottages are larger units that were designed to be cleaner and safer than the infamous FEMA trailers and mobile homes. But today’s test results suggest that the new Cottages may not have solved the formaldehyde problem. Families currently live in at least 2,500 Cottages, and many more still live in FEMA trailers or mobile homes, including those that have been purchased by the occupants. Many of these people are sick from high formaldehyde levels.
Dr. Lou Finkle, a retired professor in Biloxi, lives in one of the tested Mississippi Cottages. His Cottage tested lower than the FEMA trailer he used to live in, but that may be due to Finkle’s efforts to ventilate his Cottage. Despite the lower levels, Finkle stays out of the Cottage during the day and on weekends. "Although my Cottage still has high levels of formaldehyde, the increased space and ventilation mean I don’t smell the poison in the air," he said.
FEMA had announced that it would only purchase emergency housing that tested below 0.016 ppm—much less than what Sierra Club has found in the new Cottages. FEMA made that decision after testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed high formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers, recreational vehicles and mobile homes (see http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehhe/trailerstudy/).
As the first organization to discover the toxicity of FEMA trailers, the Sierra Club has taken a lead role in fighting for better disaster assistance and emergency housing. Visit www.sierraclub.org/gulfcoast for more information.