Trailers making people sick to be sold anyways
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Trailers making people sick to be sold anyways

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John Ahni Schertow
July 2, 2007
 

By now you know of America's (lack of) response when Hurricane Katrina touched down, yes?

Well, after FEMA got in gear they ordered tens of thousands of trailers for those displaced by the Hurricane. They ended up not sending out all the trailers though (because of the rough environment, apparently) which in hindsight may have been a good decision, because reports are now coming in that people living in those trailers are getting sick…

The cause? Formaldehyde, which is used to make the particle board (floors and cabinets) in the trailers.

it’s also used to make carpets, glue, paint, air fresheners, disinfectants, polishes, cleaning fluid, hair products, foam insulation, and (among other things) cosmetics.

The presence of formaldehyde is not necessarily the problem though (ie, it’s naturally produced by plants and our own bodies). It’s about how much you are exposed to and for how long. Normally formaldehyde breaks down very quickly, no harm done. But when used to make stuff like kitchen cabinets it’s present indefinitely, and if that cabinet, etc. is not treated properly (for starters, allowed to ventilate for a long period of time) then, well, any grandmother who can’t leave a trailer is breathing in formaldehyde 24/7.

Apparently though, even being expose to small amounts seems to be dangerous. I mean, it must be so if FEMA felt it necessary to write an internal document warning that cancer was “a potential job hazard for those just inspecting the trailers.” What about those who have to live in the trailers?

So far FEMA has received 177 complaints of formaldehyde-induced sickness…

symptoms of which include watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; nausea; coughing; chest tightness; wheezing; skin rashes; reproductive problems (such as low fertility); and allergic reactions.

… and has only put in efforts to replace 57 of those trailers. The occupants in other words, just have to live with it.

You would think a total recall would be the order of the day though, right? I mean, you would think that in least, the massive surplus of trailers would be destroyed or overhauled to ensure no one can get sick/injured from their future use. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

So then why has the government just approved the sale of the extra trailers to individuals and families on reserve?

From www.nativetimes.com – Sitting on lands in Arkansas and Texas, thousands of vacant FEMA trailers garnered sharp public criticism about government waste. Originally purchased to house people displaced by the hurricane, FEMA officials stated that regulations prohibited placing the homes in flood plains on the Gulf Coast. However, trailers intended to aid the disaster torn region are now making many occupants living in them ill.

Following months of discussions on Capital Hill and bureaucratic red tape blocking the way, approval was finally granted for the trailers to be made available to individual buyers as well as to American Indian tribes desperately in need of housing. Mobile home trailers that were intended to house Hurricane Katrina victims may arrive onto Indian reservations in the next year.

Senator Tim Johnson, Democrat representing South Dakota, pushed through legislation allowing FEMA to sell or donate the trailers, focusing on his home states’ need for housing in reservation communities. The demand for upgraded housing within Indian country has been a problem for decades and according to a 2003 survey, approximately 90,000 Indian families are homeless or are in sub-standard housing.

“I saw pictures of tens of thousands of empty mobile homes sitting unused in Hope, Ark., while South Dakota’s Indian tribes were struggling through a tough winter with inadequate housing,” Johnson had commented in a previous release.

Though the aid in housing on reservations may, at first, seem like a relief to those in need, serious issues may present themselves in the process. In May 2007, a CBS news report revealed a darker side to the assistance these mobile homes were giving to the occupants on the Gulf Coast. Intended to provide emergency housing for displaced hurricane victims, the government states that 86,000 families are still living in FEMA trailers. Further reports indicate that these units were never intended for that duration of use. (read the full story)

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