Summary of expert panel’s report to CDC on health issues and temporary housing, September 18–19, 2007
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Summary of expert panel’s report to CDC on health issues and temporary housing, September 18–19, 2007

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    In collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) convened a panel of experts to seek their individual opinions on the health issues related to living in temporary housing (i.e., travel trailers, mobile homes) for an extended period of time. Their opinions were sought with particular regard to more than 55,000 families who were victims of Hurricane Katrina living in Louisiana and Mississippi.

    The panel convened in Boulder, Colorado on September 18 and 19, 2007. The five panel members are nationally recognized experts in such areas as environmental health, public health policy, exposure assessment, environmental epidemiology, occupational epidemiology, pediatrics, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), allergies, population exposures to environmental pollutants, and indoor environmental quality (IEQ). CDC representatives briefed the panel members on the travel trailer/formaldehyde situation in Louisiana and Mississippi, and the ways in which CDC assessed the health effects of prolonged formaldehyde exposure. Although the panel members were not asked to provide consensus recommendations, they were asked to respond individually to four questions:

    1. Given the current information, what are the potential public health issues associated with living in travel trailers?

    2. Is the CDC approach (children’s health study, unoccupied and occupied trailer formaldehyde assessment, and communication plan) sufficient to address the public health issues? If not, are there additional actions you would recommend?

    3. Understanding that formaldehyde is just one component of indoor air quality, it is the component that has attracted the most public and political attention in relation to this current issue, and therefore must be addressed directly; given that, is it possible, with what we know of the science of formaldehyde to come up with reasonable target maximum levels for residential indoor air in either the short term (an “emergency” target level) and in the long term (through a rule making process)? If so, what is the best approach to arriving at these levels; if not, is that implicitly saying that the target level is whatever level does not exceed the outdoor ambient level in the surrounding environment?

    4. In what situations, if any, can these trailers be used as temporary housing after evacuation? Is it possible to set time limits for occupancy to provide shelter and a healthy environment?

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