Friday, July 20, 2007
Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA doled out over 120,000 mobile homes to residents of the Gulf Coast. Many of those trailers have walls and cabinets made up of particleboard, which contains formaldehyde that can sometimes emit gas in hot, humid weather such as that found in Louisiana and Mississippi. The effect on humans (especially children) range from "burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; nausea; coughing; chest tightness; wheezing; skin rashes and allergic reactions." As early as March 2006, FEMA began to receive complaints about formaldehyde odors.
After one trailer was tested, an April 2006 e-mail sent from a FEMA attorney to another staffer concluded, "The end result — well above OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards�Tester himself developed eye-watering symptoms of exposure." Yet, in response to complaints, FEMA's legal department advised that testing "would imply FEMA's ownership of the issue." Another read, "Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK...Should [tests] indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them."