The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

FEMA gets it wrong again

Jul 23, 2007

On July 21, 2007, the Federal Emergency Management Agency finally admitted that thousands of trailers it had provided to people who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina were contaminated with formaldehyde. Shortly after people began living in the trailers, they started complaining of difficulties with the air and some respiratory and other ill effects. But for more than a year, FEMA officials refused to handle complaints that had begun flooding in to them in early 2006.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers formaldehyde a cancer-causing agent in humans. An occupational health and safety engineer testified that the exposure found in the trailers was 400 times the normal limit for year-round exposure to formaldehyde as set by the Center for Disease Control. Some 58,000 people are still without homes and living in these trailers, almost two years after their homes were destroyed.

More than a year ago, workers at FEMA began to push for testing the trailers. But a FEMA lawyer replied last June that the agency should not respond. He wrote, “Do not initiate any testing [on formaldehyde] until we give the OK .... Once you get results, should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them.”

In other words, FEMA was not searching to protect the people already victimized by Katrina. It wanted only to protect the profits of the companies who built and provided the trailers.