FEMA trailers: CDC to evaluate long-term health effects

The CDC will try to create a registry of people who lived in a FEMA-supplied trailer and evaluate the possible health effects.

"The FEMA trailer was a nightmare," Westbank resident Aaron Jackson said Wednesday.

"It had a burning sensation where it would burn you eyes, your throat," said former Mid-City resident Darrel Allen. "You always worried about your health, always."

The government has known for nearly eight years that the formaldehyde in the FEMA trailers provided to Katrina and Rita victims could cause long-term health problems such as cancer or respiratory illnesses.

In a FOX 8 investigation in January of 2009, FEMA spokesman Andrew Thomas said, "according to CDC, when someone has extended exposure to these fumes is when there could be, possibly, long-term problems."

What the government didn't know was when, exactly, would the issues begin.

"What we don't know is what level it would take, for how long, to cause cancer," said Louisiana's DHH Medical Director Dr. Jimmy Guidry in the 2009 investigation.

Now, the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry wants to contact as many people who lived in FEMA trailers as they can.

"We've been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, to really look into the concerns of residents who may have actually lived in the trailers," said CDC spokesperson Bernadette Burden.

To start, they're contracting with RTI, a research group, to interview at least 3,000 people about living in a FEMA trailer.

The information will be compiled into The Katrina and Rita Exposures Registry, and it will keep track of everyone's common experiences.

"Common experiences of those in FEMA supplied trailers might include exposures to moisture and mold and exposure to chemicals used in building materials," said RTI's Trina Stevens. "The goal of the registry, which we're just in the very first phase of it now, is to see if we can find enough eligible people who are still in the area and willing to be enrolled in the registry."

The problem is, FEMA's database of the approximately 123,000 people who were issued trailers across four states, is out of date. However, Stevens said, they couldn't begin the process of contacting people until now.

Stevens said, "registries and research studies just really take time, and I know it can be frustrating sometimes how long it takes."

Stevens said it's taken this long to ensure the personal information they'll gather remains confidential, and that participation in the study will be completely voluntary.

"Registries are a pretty common thing. There was the World Trade Registry, and the Oklahoma City Bombing Registry and many other registries, and what they do is provide us with a means of being able to contact people after an event where we can still know that we can reach them," said Stevens.

The CDC said this registry will be a source in the future for any studies that may look to see if the predicted long term concerns arise.

The KareRegistry.org website says the groups will be, "evaluating possible effects from staying in FEMA-supplied trailers."

The research group RTI will begin randomly calling people from the FEMA database on Friday, August 15. They'll ask people to answer 20 minutes worth of questions.

The calls will continue until at least the end of the year.

To learn more about the study call RTI at 1-800-844-4587 or visit KareRegistry.org

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