What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Toxic trailers affecting health, well-being


FEMA Administrator David Paulison, center, listens as former FEMA trailer occupant Paul Stewart, left, testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on his health problems while living in a FEMA trailer after Hurricane Katrina. Lindsay Huckabee, who also lives in a FEMA trailer, is at right.


At work and at home, Kathy James and Patricia Spain said they are constantly breathing in formaldehyde.

The women work for the Department of Human Services, where temporary trailers were erected after Hurricane Katrina damaged the facility. The women also live in FEMA trailers.

When they leave for work in the mornings, the one thing they can't forget is to open the windows.

"If not, if closed up during the summer, oh, gosh, you open that doors, it's like 'whew - that chemical smell'," said James, a 47-year-old Pass Christian resident.

"It's like when you can't breathe through your nose," she said of some of the symptoms she experiences. "Just a sore throat feeling... . like you have a sinus infection."

The problems began as soon as James moved into her trailer in December 2005. Two months earlier, Spain, 56, moved into her FEMA trailer and experienced similar symptoms.

"I do have sinus infections," she said, adding she constantly is fatigued and is unable to complete simple tasks. Asked to elaborate on how it affects her personally, she said she becomes depressed. "I just stay that way," she said.

"I know... this won't last forever," Spain said. "But that's not the way that I feel."

In Washington on Thursday, the House subcommittee on Oversight and Government Reform heard tales like these that supported their findings that FEMA lawyers discouraged investigations of high formaldehyde levels in Coast FEMA trailers.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., called the situation "sickening."

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., said he sent a letter Feb. 22 to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when he heard about the formaldehyde complaints. After not receiving a response until the end of May, Taylor said he knew the FEMA trailer program was in deep trouble.

"FEMA's trailer program has been so horribly mismanaged, I feel inadequate in finding the words to describe it," he said Thursday. "We've tried to work with them in every instance and show them better and more efficient ways to do things, but they have just ignored our efforts.

"This is just another example of a really inept response to the nation's worst natural disaster," he continued. "As someone who represents southern Mississippi, we are still grateful for trailers that were paid for and provided. But we also know the value of a dollar, so we wanted to see things done in [an] efficient and fair manner."

Asked how lawmakers can get FEMA to admit responsibility, Taylor said, "the only way they'll admit the mistake is if you embarrass them."

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., has grown accustomed to the post-Katrina woes of the embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"If the allegations are true, it unfortunately wouldn't be too surprising to South Mississippians, who've had firsthand experience with FEMA since Katrina," said Lee Youngblood, a spokesman for Lott.

"Sen. Lott still believes in many respects (that FEMA) remains a big, out-of-control federal bureaucracy with too much red tape and not enough people willing to take responsibility."

Waxman echoed Lott's demand that those responsible be held accountable.
He said the committee's documents revealed "mistakes and misjudgments."

"We need to learn from them to identify what needs to be fixed to protect the health of the thousands of families still living in FEMA trailers," he said. "And we should do everything we can to make sure that this disgraceful conduct never happens again."

Original post at Sun Herald.

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