Fundamentally "Flawed" CDC Report Failed to Mention Formaldehyde Can Cause Cancer


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A (dismal) chapter of American history most of us would gladly like to put behind us -- Hurricane Katrina and the government's pathetic response -- seems to be rearing its ugly head again. The latest revelation, according to a new story written by ProPublica's Joaquin Sapien: A study released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2007 was based on a "fundamental scientific error" and failed to explicitly state that formaldehyde, even at low levels, could cause cancer.

The FEMA trailer formaldehyde contamination issue isn't exactly a new one, as Lloyd has already written about to some length. The extent of FEMA's and the CDC's bungling of the post-Katrina rescue efforts, which we've noted in several instances, is clearly laid out by Sapien and his colleagues, who spent months gathering and reviewing CDC documents and interviewing former officials to reconstruct how the government (mis)handled the formaldehyde problem. Here are a few choice segments:

Today, senior CDC officials acknowledge that the study was based on a fundamental scientific error and that it failed to mention that formaldehyde can cause cancer.

An agency standard says that people exposed to as little as .03 parts of formaldehyde per million parts of air for more than two weeks can suffer constricted airways, headaches and rashes. The trailers all measured well above that level.

But the scientists who conducted the study used a much different agency standard to evaluate the formaldehyde present in the trailers: Instead of .03 parts per million, they said health dangers wouldn't occur until the substance reached .3 ppm, 10 times greater than the long-term standard.

. . .

The documents and interviews show that government officials began to worry about lawsuits and legal liability soon after trailer occupants began complaining about the strange smells in their temporary homes.

The 40-page congressional report, scheduled to be released this week by Democrats on the Science and Technology Committee's subcommittee on investigations and oversight for the U.S. House, concludes that the CDC's reaction to the formaldehyde problem was "marred by scientific flaws, ineffective leadership, a sluggish response to inform trailer residents of the potential risk they faced and an abysmal lack of urgency to actually remove them from harm's way."

The report also chronicles the efforts of Christopher De Rosa, a senior CDC toxicologist, to warn top officials that the report was flawed.

The efforts by De Rosa to notify the CDC brass of the report's underlying flaws have been well-chronicled, both on this site and elsewhere. As much as I've complained about the politicization of other government agencies, most notably the EPA and NOAA, there is simply no comparison to what the CDC and FEMA have done here: put the lives of many Hurricane Katrina survivors at risk through sheer incompetence and ignorance. While we often associate all of FEMA's failures with Michael Brown (he of "heckuva job, Brownie" fame), it is now (unfortunately) clear that the problems with the agency's leadership and direction have always been much more deep-seated.

Via ::ProPublica: CDC report 'marred by flaws' (news website)

More about the FEMA trailers
::How CDC bungled FEMA Formaldehyde
::FEMA Formaldehyde Fiasco Festers
::FEMA Trailers Had Too Much Particle Board, Too Little Ventilation

Tags: Cancer | New Orleans