WASHINGTON (AP) - The government is selling travel trailers to the public that were banned from use as emergency housing in disasters because many had toxic levels of formaldehyde.
These units are being sold through the General Services Administration as "scrap." The Federal Emergency Management Agency purchased the trailers during the 2005 hurricane season. As of Oct. 27, FEMA identified 10,000 units that could be designated as scrap and sold under federal law.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., however, does not think these trailers should be sold as "scrap" while they are still physically intact, which is how they are pictured on the GSA Web site.
The GSA could not immediately be reached for comment. "I am deeply concerned about the well-being of those individuals who may unwittingly come to reside in these potentially contaminated trailers," Thompson wrote in a letter to the FEMA administrator Thursday.
Hurricane Katrina displaced 1 million people and sent thousands to live in travel trailers that were later discovered to have high levels of formaldehyde - a preservative commonly used in building materials. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can lead to breathing problems and is also believed to cause cancer.
Residents of FEMA-issued trailers reported frequent headaches, nosebleeds and other ailments. Despite promises never to use them again, the government now may house disaster victims in trailers if no alternative exists.
Only the head of FEMA can approve the use of such trailers, and they would have to meet the agency's standard for low formaldehyde levels. The units for sale through the GSA are not intended as housing, FEMA spokeswoman Ashley Small said. "Because of formaldehyde, FEMA strongly recommends that the travel trailers not be used for occupancy, that is, for either short- or long-term housing," Small wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "However, these travel trailers could be used for office space, command posts, storage, etc." On the GSA Web site, it states these units are: "SOLD FOR SCRAP ONLY/NOT TO BE OCCUPIED."]