Sunday, July 22, 2007
Formaldehyde in FEMA Trailers Making Occupants Sick - FEMA Leadership Fails To Respond
Yet Another Scandal Unfolds
Watch Video of Congressional Hearing Below
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Federal Emergency Management Agency since early 2006 has suppressed warnings from its own field workers about health problems experienced by hurricane victims living in government-provided trailers with levels of a toxic chemical 75 times the recommended maximum for U.S. workers, congressional lawmakers said yesterday.
A trail of e-mails obtained by investigators shows that the agency's lawyers rejected a proposal for systematic testing of the levels of potentially cancer-causing formaldehyde gas in the trailers, out of concern that the agency would be legally liable for any hazards or health problems. As many as 120,000 families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita lived in the suspect trailers, and hundreds have complained of ill effects.
On June 16, 2006, three months after reports of the hazards surfaced and a month after a trailer resident sued the agency, a FEMA logistics expert wrote that the agency's Office of General Counsel "has advised that we do not do testing, which would imply FEMA's ownership of this issue." A FEMA lawyer, Patrick Preston, wrote on June 15: "Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK. . . . Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them."
FEMA tested no occupied trailers after March 2006, when it initially discovered formaldehyde levels at 75 times the U.S.-recommended workplace safety threshold and relocated a south Mississippi couple expecting their second child, the documents indicate. Formaldehyde, a common wood preservative used in construction materials such as particle board, can cause vision and respiratory problems; long-term exposure has been linked to cancer and higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and allergies in children.
See Full Article
The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee held hearings on this issue last week. This is a MUST SEE hearing. Rather than getting on top of this problem when they became aware of it, FEMA clearly tried to keep the situation quiet. It was the persistence of the Gulf Coast residents that brought this situation to light.
Be sure to watch the second panel which includes FEMA Chief David Paulison. Watch the exchanges between Paulison and the members of the Committee. The Committee members cut him no slack. The entire video is a must-see.
Paulison dissapointed me with this situation. I thought that he could be a good FEMA director, because he came from the career ranks.... (and he could still be a good director)...but it looks like he (or his management team) dropped the ball in this case. He may not be able to recover from this scandal.
It is clear that FEMA should be an independent agency with a Chief who holds the rank of Cabinet Secretary. The organization needs to be more efficient & effective, and it needs employees who are empowered to make decisions.
Another issue that this case shows is that the trailer contractors may have cut corners. Why are we hearing about toxicity in THESE trailers, and not with non-FEMA related trailers across the country? What was different about the manufacturing process with THESE units? Is it possible that the Contractors cut corners to save resources, & maximize profits? Why was there no mechanism to check for quality control and safety in the manufacturing process?
Committee Chairman - Henry Waxman
Co-blogger African American Political Pundit has also covered this story.