We're about to find out if Mississippi hurricane victims have been living through a toxic crisis. On Thursday, FEMA and the Centers For Disease Control announced plans to test the air quality in 500 random travel trailers. Those test will determine the formaldehyde levels in FEMA travel trailers. And they'll give the CDC a better idea if the trailers caused hurricane victims to get sick.
The formaldehyde tests start next Friday. And the initial results should be released in February. Testing will be done in both Mississippi and Louisiana.
Paul Stewart won't be the least bit surprised if the results prove that FEMA trailers are toxic. The Bay St. Louis man has been warning people on the coast, and leaders on Capitol Hill about a potential health threat for almost two years. These days, Stewart lives in a private trailer on Harrison Court.
"There was a camper in this driveway. And then we were the only other camper on the street," he said, pointing to deserted land covered with remnants of the hurricane.
Stewart no longer lives in a FEMA owned camper. He bought his own once worries surfaced that the FEMA camper was a toxic threat to his family.
"It's been troubling to me from the very beginning that it's taken FEMA so long to react to a health crisis of this magnitude," he said.
Next Friday, FEMA and the Centers For Disease Control will finally test the air quality inside trailers, to see if their formaldehyde levels were a danger to the hurricane victims living inside them.
Henry Falk is with the CDC.
"The results of the sampling will be useful as people make decisions about how quickly they need to move. The results will be useful in terms of protecting public health," he said during a news conference.
Originally, the trailer test was supposed to be done in early November. But FEMA postponed the air quality analysis, saying the agency needed more time to prepare. That response puzzled Stewart.
"They've taken too long to react to this problem. It's that simple," he thought.
FEMA director David Paulison explained his agency decision to postpone the test until now.
"We could have tested a few months ago. But we didn't know what to tell the residents at the end of test." he said.
Paulison believes FEMA's ability to partner with the CDC should provide enlightening answers to the potential FEMA trailer air quality crisis.
"That's what they're going to do," Paulison said, referring to the CDC's ability to analyze the results, "which is going to help us a lot and also help the residents make some decisions."
More than 47,000 people in Mississippi and Louisiana still live in FEMA trailers. Federal agents say about 800 families a week are moving into better accommodations.