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Katrina Evacuees Made To Remain In Toxic Air

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of America is under disgrace. According to congressional lawmakers, the FEMA stamped on warnings from its own field workers about health problems experienced by hurricane evacuees. Those housed in government-provided trailers were exposed to levels of a toxic chemical 75 times the recommended maximum for U.S. workers.

A trail of e-mails obtained by investigators shows that the agency's lawyers rejected a proposal for systematic testing of the levels of potentially cancer-causing formaldehyde gas in the trailers. This was probably out of concern that the agency would be legally liable for any hazards or health problems. As many as 120,000 families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita lived in the suspect trailers, and hundreds have complained of ill effects.

On June 16, 2006, three months after reports of the hazards surfaced and a month after a trailer resident sued the agency, a FEMA logistics expert wrote that agency attorneys had "advised that we do not do testing, which would imply FEMA's ownership of this issue." Another FEMA attorney on June 15 wrote, "Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK. ... you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them."

FEMA is accused of not testing any occupied trailers after March 2006, when it initially discovered formaldehyde levels at 75 times the U.S.-recommended workplace-safety threshold. Formaldehyde, a common wood preservative used in construction materials such as particleboard, can cause vision and respiratory problems; long-term exposure has been linked to cancer and higher rates of asthma, bronchitis and allergies in children.

One man in Slidell, La., was found dead in his trailer on June 27, 2006, after complaining about the formaldehyde fumes. In a conference call about the death, 28 officials from six agencies recommended that the circumstances be inve
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