UPDATE: Contaminated FEMA trailers were mislabeled

Tuesday, March 3, 2009 | 3:54 p.m. CST; updated 4:30 p.m. CST, Tuesday, March 3, 2009

ST. LOUIS — Thirteen former Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers in eastern Missouri have been banned for use as housing because their formaldehyde levels are too high, the chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission said Tuesday.

Chairman Robert Clayton said the trailers were previously issued by the government as housing after Gulf Coast hurricanes. But the mobile homes had high formaldehyde levels, and exposure to the chemical can carry an increased risk of cancer and respiratory illnesses. As a result, the homes were supposed to only be sold for scrap.

Instead, they resurfaced in Jefferson County, south of St. Louis, where they were offered as housing in recent weeks. No one had moved into the homes in Missouri.

"It is a serious issue, these homes being held out to the public as safe, when they're not," Clayton said.

The Public Service Commission regulates the sale of manufactured housing in Missouri as part of its duties. It has not received any information that there are other contaminated mobile homes in Missouri.

FEMA trailers brought into the state to provide housing after ice storms, tornadoes and flooding are safe, said Ron Pleus, the commission's manufactured housing program director.

"There are many, many FEMA homes in disaster areas in Missouri and they are fine," he said.

Clayton and Pleus said the Jefferson County trailers appear to be an isolated incident. Pleus said measures are in place to make sure former FEMA trailers with high formaldehyde levels are not reused as housing. He said the first buyer has to sign paperwork that trailers can only be used for scrap, and that information is supposed to be shared with any future buyers.

Martin Toma, director of Jefferson County's code enforcement division, said it's not clear to him at what point someone first tried to pass the trailers off as liveable. No one has been cited for any wrongdoing in Missouri.

He said the trailers were bought by a broker, Truck Center Sales and Equipment in Tallahassee, Fla., at a General Services Administration auction in Florida and are owned by KDM Development Corp.

A listed number could not be found for Truck Center Sales, and a phone call to KDM in Pittsford, N.Y., was not immediately returned.

Toma said the trailers came to the attention of his department when the Robindale Mobile Home Park wanted to set them in place. An inspector saw the titles, which said the mobile homes were only to be used for scrap, so the county did not allow the process to move forward.

The trailers had federal Housing and Urban Development labels on them, which normally show the homes comply with building codes and safety standards. "The home labels should have been removed. It was an error between the agencies," Pleus said.

The Public Service Commission removed the labels to show the trailers cannot be used for housing.


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