So, first up on the countdown: FEMA is killing the very people it’s supposed to help.
Ok, so that’s a hyperbolic exaggeration, but the real fact is almost as sobering: FEMA may have used toxic levels of formaldehyde, a human carcinogen, in many of its trailers. MSNBC reports that the Sierra Club tested 44 trailers and found illegal levels of the chemical in 40 of them. The health effects are obvious:
"Becky Gillette, co-chair of the Mississippi chapter of the environmental group, said that representatives also have heard from numerous trailer inhabitants who say they began experiencing health problems ranging from headaches and runny noses to chronic respiratory problems and nosebleeds as soon as they moved in…
Dr. Scott Needle, a pediatrician in Bay St. Louis, said he noticed some unusual and persistent health problems among his patients living in the trailers well before the possible link to formaldehyde exposure surfaced. 'I was seeing kids coming in with respiratory complaints – colds and sinus infections – and they were getting them over and over again,' he said. '…Almost invariably, these families were staying in the FEMA trailers.'"
FEMA covered up evidence of these tests, hiding its crime. If I hurt someone and ran away from the story, I'd be arrested for hit and run. Their defense is that they have only received 20 official complaints from trailer residents, to which I reply, OF COURSE you’ve only received 20 complaints! NOLA residents have told me that even your most basic paperwork is so complex and takes so long that none of it’s worth filing if you don’t have to! And besides, how the heck is someone supposed to know that the headaches they’ve been getting lately are caused by the formaldehyde you secretly illegally used and not something at work or in the rotting house next door? And indeed - though 20 people complained directly to FEMA, over 80,000 are having these health problems.
FEMA's original proposed solution isn’t much better – open your windows and increase ventilation. EXCUSE ME? It’s a hot sticky Louisiana summer, and you suggest we solve your incompetence by OPENING WINDOWS??? That’s like Homeland Security saying buy duct tape to stop the terrorists!
You can't hide behind such a lousy cop out for too long, and FEMA has halted the distribution of its disaster trailers while scientists investigate. Fortunately, this story has received more national play than Katrina recovery stories usually do, and Rep. Henry Waxman, whom I love and adore, is investigating. Unfortunately, it comes on top of other disastrous FEMA news revealed in the last month - FEMA is taking far too long to pay its contractors, and wasted $13 million on ice. Like I tell people, FEMA is screwing up as badly now as they were immediately after the storm.
(Pictures: The first picture is a block full of FEMA trailers in Chalmette, LA. I took the photo in March 2007. The second is Rep. Waxman, courtesy of the Washington Post.)