Mold Found in FEMA Mobile Homes in Indiana, Iowa

July 23, 2008

The discovery of mold in federally provided mobile homes sheltering Indiana and Iowa flood victims has prompted new anger and frustrations for those who have lost their houses.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has notified those residing in FEMA-provided mobile homes that mold is believed to have grown on the exterior water heater compartments.

FEMA officials alerted Indiana last week after apparent mold was discovered during routine maintenance of 11 mobile homes at two central Indiana mobile home parks.

A state health official who inspected the 11 homes found mold on eight of them and damp conditions in the other three, leading crews to replace problematic access panels on all the homes.

That discovery will lead to mold inspections of 700 other mobile homes that are being brought out of storage to house some of Indiana’s June flood victims.

Over the weekend, Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge ordered FEMA to remove any moldy trailers and pay for temporary housing for residents living in them.

FEMA has agreed to pay for those living in the affected trailers to stay at a hotel, pay for their meals and for storage of their personal items until different trailers arrive. FEMA already has shipped out many of the 200 homes from Cedar Rapids and brought in replacements.

Ron Clark, an industrial hygienist with Indiana’s Department of Health, said Monday that the fungus was found on the exterior, door-like access panel that covers a compartment holding each home’s water heater, although mold was also found on the door jambs.

Clark said the access panels were clad in aluminum, but the interior was drywall _ a material he said made the panels prone to becoming damp and fostering the growth of mold.

“It’s really an odd design,” he said. “It was an aluminum shell, just like the exterior of the trailer, but with a drywall lining inside.”

Clark conducted a visual inspection of the mold and took samples for testing because he said the state health agency “treats all molds as the same.” Exposure to molds can cause respiratory and allergic reactions in humans.

All the mold found was confined to the homes’ water heater compartments, but Clark said state health inspectors will be returning to test the air quality in all the units periodically.

“There was no mold in the trailers at all and nothing in the living space,” he said.

After Clark’s inspections, the Army Corps of Engineers replaced the access panels on the 11 units and nine others that have not yet been occupied by victims from the early June flooding across much of the Midwest, said Leo Arbaugh, a civil engineer with the Army Corps.

“The doors weren’t vented, they were poorly installed, a lot of gaps,” he said. “Some of them were nailed shut, some of them had furring strips holding the door up. We just went ahead and made all new doors and replaced them. They look a lot better and they’ll keep the moisture out.”

FEMA spokesman Alberto Pillot said the families living in the 11 Indiana mobile homes already occupied were given the option to move to another unit but declined.

“They were offered alternative housing, but all of them decided since there was no threat they would just stay where they were,” he said.

Pillot said FEMA will also be checking for mold in about 700 unused mobile homes that had been stored at the Indiana National Guard’s Camp Atterbury. Earlier this month, those units were called into duty to help shelter some of Indiana’s June flood victims.

The mold testing on those 700 dwellings comes after state and FEMA officials announced July 10 that they would test each one to determine if any contain unsafe levels of formaldehyde, a common construction preservative.

That testing was announced the same week Congress held hearings to grill northern Indiana-based makers of trailer homes found to have high formaldehyde levels that sickened some Hurricane Katrina victims.

Pillot said that testing is still under way.

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