FEMA Faces Barrage of Criticism over Toxic Trailers

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is again being criticized for the toxic trailers it distributed to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  The outcry came after tests revealed Thursday showed dangerous levels of formaldehyde in FEMA toxic trailers used to house hurricane victims in Louisiana and Mississippi.  “This is such gross incompetence.  I really have not, in my 10 years, seen anything like this on the domestic front,” said U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

FEMA will move hundreds of people displaced by the hurricanes from the toxic FEMA trailers into apartments and hotels in the next two weeks, and thousands more trailer residents will be moved soon after.  The first groups to be moved from the toxic FEMA trailers will be those with health problems, as well as people living in FEMA trailer parks.  All of those trailer parks will be shut down, FEMA director R. David Paulison said, adding that he will not wait until the CDC’s formaldehyde study is completed before taking action.  Preliminary results from the CDC study found that formaldehyde fumes in the toxic FEMA trailers were, on average, about five times higher than what is found in most modern homes.  Formaldehyde is a preservative commonly used in construction materials, has been found in components of the FEMA toxic trailers, can lead to breathing problems, and is also believed to cause cancer.

Critics fault FEMA for not responding sooner.  “It is simply inexcusable for FEMA to have a one to two year delay in addressing the serious health issues of these men and women along the Gulf Coast who have already suffered from the devastation of the 2005 hurricanes,” said Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  “When the health of our people and our children and our families is at stake we cannot afford to wait, we cannot decide that we have to do more studies and conduct further analysis,” he said.

Paulison said he hoped to have everyone out of the toxic FEMA trailers and in other housing by the summer, when the heat could worsen the formaldehyde fume problem.  Louisiana has 25,162 occupied FEMA trailers and mobile homes; Mississippi has 10,362.  Other states also have hundreds of trailers.

The CDC findings could also have disturbing implications for the safety of other trailers and mobile homes across the country, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.  Paulison vowed FEMA would never again use the travel trailers to shelter disaster.  FEMA will continue to supply leftover, never-used mobile homes from the twin disasters to victims of last week’s tornadoes in the South, Paulison said adding that the mobile homes will be opened up, aired out and tested first.

Democratic leaders of a House science subcommittee had alleged late last month that FEMA manipulated scientific research into the danger of the toxic FEMA trailers saying FEMA “ignored, hid and, manipulated government research on the potential impact of long-term exposure to formaldehyde.”

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