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Lawmakers Say FEMA Lied about Toxic Trailers

Jan 29, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP It seems as if the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) lied about the dangers formaldehyde in all those Toxic FEMA Trailers that are still home to over 40,000 beleaguered Katrina and Rita hurricane survivors.  

Two Democratic leaders of a House science subcommittee alleged yesterday that FEMA manipulated scientific research into the danger of the Toxic FEMA Trailers.  In a letter to Homeland Security chief Micheal Chertoff, the lawmakers said  FEMA "ignored, hid and, manipulated government research on the potential impact of long-term exposure to formaldehyde.” Representatives Brad Miller (N.C.) and Nick Lampson (TX) cited agency documents provided to Congress that that they say prove  that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was "complicit in giving FEMA precisely what they wanted" to suppress information about the adverse health effects of living in the Toxic FEMA Trailers.

Christopher T. DeRosa, one of the experts at the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry informed FEMA there was no "safe level" of long-term exposure.  The representatives said the CDC and FEMA ignored De Rosa’s warnings, with FEMA going so far as to continue looking until it found an opinion more desirable to its needs regarding short-term formaldehyde exposure.  

"Any level of exposure to formaldehyde may pose a cancer risk, regardless of duration," De Rosa wrote in a February 2007 letter to a FEMA lawyer, recently obtained by a House Science and Technology investigative subcommittee that Miller chairs. "Failure to communicate this issue is possibly misleading and a threat to public health." De Rosa wrote the letter after learning that the CDC bypassed his office to produce another report for FEMA that did not consider long-term exposure risks, contradicting his recommendation.  "Honest scientific studies don't start with the conclusion, and then work backwards from there," Miller said.

FEMA said the health agency's report did not address long-term health effects but rather concerned ways to avoid toxic exposure to formaldehyde. "FEMA did not suppress or inappropriately influence any report," agency spokesman James McIntyre said.

Last July, FEMA announced it would test occupied trailers after congressional investigators disclosed FEMA suppressed warnings for over a year from its field workers about health problems experienced by survivors.  CDC is performing tests on 500 trailers, finally begun last month, the lawmakers noted.  "The Committee is concerned about the independence and scientific integrity of any indoor air testing for formaldehyde levels in these trailers done under the auspices of FEMA," Miller and Samson wrote.  "For those who are too poor to live elsewhere, FEMA's position remains as it was in 2006:  There are no possible adverse health effects that can't be cured by opening the windows," they added.

Hundreds of people in Louisiana and Mississippi are suing manufacturers, accusing them of providing FEMA with toxic trailers containing high formaldehyde levels.  Many families still living in the Toxic FEMA Trailers are suffering with a host of health problems tied, medical experts believe, to the Toxic FEMA Trailers.  The trailers’ floors and cabinets were built with particleboard containing formaldehyde.  Under hot, humid conditions, formaldehyde emits toxic fumes, especially harmful to young lungs.

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