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CDC Study Shows Kids Had More Respiratory Problems After Katrina. Are Toxic FEMA Trailers to Blame?

May 13, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Rates of respiratory diseases spiked among children in one Mississippi county following Hurricane Katrina, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says.  However, the CDC was not able to determine the reason for the increase, nor was it able to say how much the toxic disaster trailers distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may have contributed to the problems.

The CDC study was based on a review of medical charts and interviews with 144 children between 2 and 12 years old who were treated at Hancock Medical Center and four physician practices in Hancock County from August 2004 to August 2007. Two-thirds of the children lived in FEMA housing. While the study said the total number of medical visits to the five facilities by the children during the year before Katrina -- 411 -- was about the same as the number during the second year after the storm,  visits for bronchitis-like symptoms increased from 22 percent to 31 percent.

However, even the CDC admitted the conclusions that could be drawn from such a small study were limited, especially because of the special problems presented by Katrina's aftermath.  Because Katrina destroyed thousands of records at four of the five facilities, and researchers were unable to determine how many children lived in the county, the CDC reported. Because of the destruction, researchers did not even able to analyze records from year after the storm.  Researchers also were unsure whether the results were skewed because the study included only children who reported health problems before Katrina, or because families increased visits after FEMA housing problems were publicized.

Still, the results of the CDC study do indicate that something was happening to children after Katrina.  A prime suspect has to be the formaldehyde in toxic FEMA trailers.  Late last year, FEMA and the CDC conducted air quality tests of 519 trailers. The CDC tests confirmed that the FEMA trailers posed a serious danger to residents still living in them. The average formaldehyde levels found in the toxic trailers measured 77ppb (parts per billions), significantly higher than the 10 to 17 ppb concentration seen in newer homes. When it announced its findings, the CDC urged FEMA to move residents from the toxic trailers as quickly as possible, with priority given to families with children, elderly people or anyone with asthma or other chronic conditions.

Taken together, the findings of the CDC trailer tests and its children's health study indicate a need for more comprehensive research into this problem.

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