FEMA's Toxic Trailers
As if survivors of the hurricanes didn’t have enough to worry about, now comes word that some of them suffered illnesses as a result of living in those trailers. Could it be because the trailers were sitting out in the open sun in a Hope, AK airport for a year and a half before people got to live in them?
Dozens of pages of internal FEMA emails released by the committee revealed the agency’s deliberate ignorance of field staff who were concerned about formaldehyde gas being emitted in trailers housing displaced residents. The documents revealed an agency that seemed more concerned with preventing potential lawsuits than with the health of those living in their mobile homes. “Recently discovered documents make it appear FEMA’s primary concerns were legal liability and public relations, not human health and safety,” said Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican. FEMA administrator R. David Paulison, who received stern questioning from both sides of the aisle, admitted that, “in hindsight, we could have moved faster to address [concerns].”
Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA doled out over 120,000 mobile homes to residents of the Gulf Coast. Many of those trailers have walls and cabinets made up of particleboard, which contains formaldehyde that can sometimes emit gas in hot, humid weather such as that found in Louisiana and Mississippi. The effect on humans (especially children) range from “burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; nausea; coughing; chest tightness; wheezing; skin rashes and allergic reactions.” As early as March 2006, FEMA began to receive complaints about formaldehyde odors. After one trailer was tested, an April 2006 e-mail sent from a FEMA attorney to another staffer concluded, “The end result – well above OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards – Tester himself developed eye-watering symptoms of exposure.” Yet, in response to complaints, FEMA’s legal department advised that testing “would imply FEMA’s ownership of the issue.” Another read, “Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK…Should [tests] indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them.”
Fabulous. They’d rather not own the testing process so they’ll let people suffer.