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Manufacturers say they knew of FEMA trailer health risks

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Gulf Stream did write a letter to FEMA [PDF] in which it said that "informal testing" of the trailers indicated that the formaldehyde levels fell below what they called "the OSHA standard" of 750 parts per billion. That figure is the maximum level of allowable workplace exposure.

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Waxman said that apparently FEMA did not follow up by asking for additional test results.

House Republicans point out that the government has not set any standard for the amount of permissible formaldehyde in travel trailers. As MSNBC reports, the government has indoor air-quality standards for mobile homes, but not travel trailers. Setting such a standard would require legislation from Congress.

Republicans are citing the absence of a federal standard to pin the blame on the government. The Washington Post quotes a number of GOP representatives who say that Waxman should lay off the trailermakers.

"The problem was and remains confusion among federal agencies, not some conspiracy among trailermakers," said ranking committee Republican Rep. Tom Davis (Va.).
Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana said that 8 million Americans live in or own mobile homes or trailers but that there had been only a handful of formaldehyde complaints before March 2006. "Instead of beating up manufacturers, we ought to give them a little vote of confidence," he said.
Rep. Mark Souder (R) of Indiana suggested that companies were being subjected to a "double standard" and dubious science, noting that even before Katrina, a Tulane University study had found high formaldehyde levels in conventional homes in Baton Rouge.

For its part, FEMA issued a press release Thursday defending the trailer purchases:

FEMA neither knowingly, nor willingly, purchased manufactured units from dealerships and manufacturers that contained levels of formaldehyde above existing construction standards, nor did FEMA's specifications encourage non-compliance with such standards. We have been fully transparent in our actions on this issue.

The agency has announced that, in the absence of a federal standard, it has now set the standard at 16 parts per billion for all of its units.

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