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Manufacturers say they knew of FEMA trailer health risks

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/NEWSCOM

(Read caption) (Left to right) Gulf Stream Coach Chairman Jim Shea, Pilgrim International President Steve Bennet, Keystone RV President Ronald Fenech, and Forest River President and CEO Peter Liegl are sworn in before testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about FEMA trailers Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

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Manufacturers testified before Congress Wednesday that they were aware that the trailers used to house victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita contained unsafe levels of formaldehyde. Congressional Republicans say that the government is ultimately at fault because it did not establish air quality standards for those specific types of homes.

At a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, California Democrat Henry Waxman grilled officials of four companies – Gulf Stream Coach, Pilgrim International, Keystone RV, and Forest River – whose trailers were found to have the highest levels of formaldehyde, a chemical used to pressure-treat the wood panels in the trailers.

When Gulf Stream tested 11 occupied trailers two years ago, it found that every one had levels at or above 100 parts per billion, the level at which researchers say acute health effects begin to occur. Four of the trailers had levels above 500 parts per billion, the level at which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires medical monitoring.

Representative Waxman said that the companies should have informed the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the high levels of the toxic gas.

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