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FEMA Works To Avoid Formaldehyde In New Units

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FEMA Works To Avoid Formaldehyde In New Units


FEMA Works To Avoid Formaldehyde In New Units

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June 1st is the official start of the hurricane season. This week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced one way it's preparing. FEMA unveiled a half a dozen models of temporary housing designed to provide shelter for people displaced by natural disasters. The models are undergoing testing and won't be ready for a while, but FEMA officials say they mark another step away from the agency's post-Katrina stumbles. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The six housing units sit on a patch of ground at FEMA's National Emergency Training Center in Maryland. A couple could pass for small houses, others scream RV. Jack Schuback, the FEMA official in charge of the testing program, says the diversity of the units is needed to deal with the different conditions across the country.

Mr. JACK SCHUBACK (FEMA): So we'd like to have a unit that's very suitable, for example, to an extremely cold climate, like Minot, North Dakota. And then if we have hurricanes down in the Gulf, where it's a very hot and humid climate, we want units that perform well with the ventilation system, the air conditioning system, and that are resistant to a coastal-type environment.

Mr. MATT RILEY: My name's Matt Riley, Lexington Homes, out of Lexington, Mississippi, and I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about my particular unit.

NAYLOR: Matt's particular unit is the coziest of the bunch. It's got a little peaked roof and a small but nonetheless real porch.

We're standing on a porch.

Mr. RILEY: Standing on the porch, right. This is, I guess for radio, it's like a shotgun fishing cottage. Driving down the beach, if you saw this thing, you would not realize that it was built in a factory. You would think it was - had been there all along.

Walk inside, you're in a very roomy common room that's the kitchen, dining and living area.

NAYLOR: Riley points out one other key component of this house.

Mr. RILEY: We've got fiberglass insulation — formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation — throughout.

NAYLOR: And that's important. You remember those trailers FEMA provided to thousands who lost their homes in Katrina. Many who moved in complained of headaches and other ailments. It was discovered the trailers were produced with high levels of formaldehyde, which permeated the inside air.

So these houses have been built with as little formaldehyde as possible. Over the next six months or so, the first responders attending the training center will be staying in the houses. Schuback says FEMA will be monitoring formaldehyde levels. In the meantime, he's keeping his fingers crossed there won't be another Katrina-sized storm this summer.

Mr. SCHUBACK: If there's a large number of people displaced, and there's a large amount of damage, conducting a disaster housing operation will take some time, there's no doubt about that.

NAYLOR: But he quickly adds, for smaller-to-moderate-sized disasters, FEMA is in pretty good shape. Some 4,000 trailers and mobile homes are still being used to house residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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