Two Years ago In TreeHugger: FEMA and Formaldehyde

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archive-fema trailer photo

Two years ago this week John wrote one of the first stories about FEMA's toxic trailers, how they were like an "optimization experiment"-

"If a designer of emergency housing set out to expose climate refugees to as much formaldehyde as possible, what would he do? "

First off, he might cover as much interior surface area as possible with particleboard and composites heavily laced with urea formaldehyde resins and glues: building envelope, doors, flooring...even furniture. Then, he would increase the internal wall surface area to volume ratio as much as possible: like in a trailer. Park those trailers out in the southern sun, where the heat will "bake" off formaldehyde gas at the highest possible rate, and you have a recipe for optimum exposure. Well almost optimum. To get it absolutely as high as possible, you want to ensure that the residents of said trailers are going to spend as much time as possible inside: dislocated persons without jobs would be perfect.

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And what a tragic story it turned out to be- FEMA "ignored, hid and manipulated government research on the potential impact of long-term exposure to formaldehyde."

The Center for Disease control ignored information from its toxicologists for a year (and then fired him)

The the CDC finally told everyone to get out of the things. Fast.

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found "exceptionally large emissions of formaldehyde" in units tested and traced the chemical's presence to extensive use of cheap, light plywood and particleboard for walls, flooring and cabinet surfaces. At the same time, trailers "are not outfitted for adequate ventilation and are tighter than would be desired for housing with such small volume," they said.

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In the end, a House Committee found that The CDC and FEMA failed to protect the public's health.

"The agency's incomplete and inadequate handling of their public health assessment, the failure to quickly and effectively correct their scientific mistakes and their reluctance to take appropriate corrective actions was all marked by notable inattention and inaction on the part of ATSDR's ( Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry ) senior leadership. As a result, tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina and Rita families living in trailers with elevated levels of formaldehyde were kept in harm's way for at least one year longer than necessary."

fema trailer photo

And most recently, the EPA is finally considering regulating formaldehyde. (we called for its ban)

Two years gone. Millions of dollars wasted. Thousands of people affected. What a waste.

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