Friday, July 20, 2007

Retrieved from the memory hole

In February I wrote about the health problems afflicting New Orleans refugees who, 22 months later, are now still living in "temporary" trailers provided by FEMA.

It seems that finally, finally, someone is paying attention. From Friday's New York Times:
The chairman of the House oversight committee on Thursday accused the Federal Emergency Management Agency of refusing to acknowledge high levels of formaldehyde in trailers it provided to hurricane evacuees on the Gulf Coast. ...

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, said 5,000 pages of documents released Thursday revealed a battle between the FEMA field staff and officials at the agency’s headquarters. ...

Mr. Waxman said that after news reports in March 2006 about formaldehyde in the trailers, members of the field staff urged immediate action. He quoted a response in an e-mail message from a FEMA lawyer who said: “Do not initiate any testing until we give the O.K. Once you get results, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them.”
Waxman said agency officials "wanted to ignore the problem," but that doesn't go far enough. This wasn't "ignoring" the situation, this was a conscious, criminal, cover-up that put the health of tens of thousands of people at risk, a cover-up undertaken because FEMA was too incompetent and too cheap to act and even more because it just didn't give a flipping damn, because bureaucratic CYA was more important than human lives. Oh, no, but wait, there was actually a perfectly good reason:
The administrator of FEMA, R. David Paulison, told the subcommittee he was not “100 percent sure that it was the trailers” that caused residents’ health problems.
Really. Well, here's a question for your, Mr. Paulison: Just how sure would you have to be before you got off your ass and did something?

On the other hand, FEMA did do something:
On the eve of the hearing, the agency announced it that it had asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test air quality in occupied trailers. The study will begin next week.
Timing is everything.

Footnote: GOPper Mark Souder of Indiana, a state which is home to many mobile home manufacturers, complained that
"[t]o just uniformly, without research, make the assertions that I’ve been hearing today about an industry is irresponsible.”
Now, it is true that these trailers were never intended for long-term occupancy and so they are being used in ways for which they were not designed. So it's gratifying that someone on the committee is standing up for the reputation of mobile home manufacturers - because that, after all, is what's really important here.

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