FEMA Covered Up Cancer Risk in its Toxic Katrina Trailers
January 29, 2008
Surprised? I didn't think so. At this point, there's nothing left to shock when it comes to the handling of post-Katrina matters involving FEMA.
[D]ocuments obtained by Salon show that FEMA also pressured scientists to water down a report on the health risks of formaldehyde. FEMA officials instructed the scientists to omit any references to cancer or other long-term health risks from exposure to formaldehyde in FEMA trailers.
In a scathing letter sent today to Dr. Howard Frumkin, chief of the National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Reps. Brad Miller, chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, and Nick Lampson, chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, wrote, "you appear to have been complicit in giving FEMA precisely what they wanted ... However what FEMA wanted and what you approved giving them was not the whole truth regarding formaldehyde. It was not based on 'best science,' nor did it provide 'trusted health information' to the Katrina survivors." FEMA and ATSDR officials are expected to testify Tuesday before the House Committee on Homeland Security, which is also investigating the matter.
After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA placed tens of thousands of displaced families in travel trailers, more than 40,000 of which are still in use. Almost immediately, hundreds of families called FEMA to complain of illnesses, from breathing difficulties, bloody noses and rashes to more serious problems, and even deaths, possibly connected to high levels of formaldehyde gas permeating the trailers. Formaldehyde is a nearly colorless gas with a pungent, irritating odor even at low levels. It is used in many products and manufacturing procedures, notably as an adhesive in plywood used to make trailers. Health reports reveal that exposure to formaldehyde can impact fertility and the developing fetus, leading to spontaneous abortion or physical malformations.