Chairman Thompson Introduces The Safe and Healthy Emergency Housing Act


WASHINGTON, November 6, 2007  – Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, released the following statement of introduction for H.R. 4079, the “Safe and Healthy Emergency Housing Act of 2007”:

“I rise today to introduce the Safe and Healthy Emergency Housing Act, which underscores the Federal Government’s obligation to provide safe emergency housing units to disaster victims during times of need.

I am glad to be joined today in introducing this bill by the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, Henry Cuellar from Texas and Rep. Gene Taylor, who knows first hand the importance of providing adequate housing to disaster victims. I would also like to thank Representatives Clarke, Jackson Lee, Christensen, Lofgren, and Al Green for signing on as original cosponsors.

Nearly two and half years after Hurricane Katrina, we are still learning how we can improve our ability to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. The lessons we have learned cannot be ignored. One of the most striking lessons we learned was that this country was ill-prepared to provide emergency housing to victims during a major catastrophe.

To house the number of individuals who lost their homes during Katrina and Rita, FEMA was forced to immediately purchase thousands of travel trailers. By the time the dust settled, FEMA had purchased over 100,000 of these units.

At the time, travel trailers appeared to be a logical choice because they can be produced much faster than other housing alternatives. However, as time passed, it became clear that travel trailers may not have been the best option.

By now, most of us are well aware that many of the travel trailers provided by FEMA were and remain contaminated with formaldehyde. Many of us, however, do not know why this happened.

Tests conducted in 2006 found that the formaldehyde levels in most of the trailers tested exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended limit. It’s also important to note that formaldehyde is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research of Cancer.

I have continually raised concerns over the health impacts of formaldehyde exposure with the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

My Committee staff has also interviewed medical officials from the CDC Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry about a February 2007 report that focused on formaldehyde levels present in FEMA trailers. However, the study did not analyze the potential health impacts on travel trailers residents.

After expressing my deep concerns with the DHS Chief Medical Officer over the lack of such a study, FEMA announced that they would be entering into an agreement with the CDC to test the trailers for formaldehyde and to study what associated health impacts may have been encountered.

I anxiously await the results of this important study. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulates formaldehyde emissions in manufactured housing. However, travel trailers are not considered to be ‘manufactured housing,’ and are, therefore, are exempt from this regulation.

This legislation protects disaster victims by requiring that any emergency housing units provided by FEMA meet HUD regulations limiting formaldehyde emissions.

This legislation does not force the travel trailer industry to change the way they manufacture their product, it simply makes certain that FEMA will no longer provide formaldehyde-contaminated housing units to disaster victims.

While the health implications are still being studied, we do know that research has proven that the negative health effects can range anywhere from respiratory irritation to cancer. According to medical experts, the health impacts are most concerning for children whose lungs are still developing.

Our citizens’ health should be a top priority during times of disaster recovery. I believe this legislation will embrace that priority and make certain that this problem will not be encountered during future disasters.”

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Please contact Dena Graziano or Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978.

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