Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lesson: Work for FEMA, Don't Get Helped by It

The sad comedy-drama of the FEMA trailers sent to the Gulf Coast, New Orleans and Mississippi alike, just got a new chapter. These trailers, which have been home to hurricane and flood victims for a year and a half now in thousands of cases, have been long since known not to have been put through the "curing" process (due to rushed FEMA orders) that ventilates out the toxic formaldehyde fumes. This year, FEMA had finally agreed to have the trailers tested for the fumes, although the testing, by the Centers for Disease Control, has been repeatedly postponed.

Friday's Washington Post, following up a report by CBS, adds the latest twist: FEMA prohibits its own employees from entering the same trailers in agency storage. But, lest you think that's a double standard, FEMA head David Paulison demurs:

Paulison said there is no double standard for Katrina survivors and FEMA employees. Instead, he said, the difference is between trailers that have been aired out by occupants and those sealed in storage. A new FEMA memo states that the latter be ventilated by forced-air pump for 30 minutes before any entry by workers, Knocke said.

"Aired out by occupants"? Herein may lie a clue to the postponements. Testing the trailers in the heat midsummer, when the vehicles' windows are shut and the AC is on, might result in higher, even dangerous, levels of the noxious fumes than after Thanksgiving, when trailer inhabitants may actually have had the windows open for a few weeks. Never too late to let the evidence blow away.