In spite of all the talk in both houses of congress about revamping or restructuring the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), there's a new Hurricane Katrina scandal brewing in Washington.
Several news organizations, including the Cable News Network (CNN), have uncovered irrefutable evidence that mobile-home trailers used to temporarily house thousands of victims of New Orleans' devastating hurricane, and subsequent flood, were treated with a toxic substance known as formaldehyde.
For example, CNN ran a story on January 29 that accused FEMA of "twisting science" in a report they created for public consumption. The CNN news story cites an investigation being conducted of the trailers by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and that CDC scientists wish to conduct further tests of the formaldehyde-laced trailers.
The CNN report went on to state: "Almost 150,000 households have lived in FEMA trailers at some point since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. FEMA says about 40,000 families are still living in the travel trailers. Formaldehyde is a preservative used in construction materials like plywood. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a probable human carcinogen, according to the EPA Web site."
CNN said, "The CDC, did an initial assessment for FEMA that wasn't intended to address the long-term effects of extended exposure to formaldehyde." "The original response focused on the acute health effects of formaldehyde exposure -- to meet the urgent needs expressed by FEMA in its original request," said the CDC statement.
"The initial consultation [was] intended to determine effective mitigation measures, and did not discuss long-term health impacts," a FEMA statement agreed.
"One person [from the CDC] who came to us told us they wouldn't write the report," a FEMA spokesperson said. "That person was circumvented and another person at the agency agreed to write a report to say that levels of formaldehyde were safe for a couple of weeks."
Another cable news organization -- MSNBC -- ran a story on July 25, 2006 that posed the question "Are FEMA Trailers Toxic Tin Cans," but apparently there was no reaction to the news that formaldehyde was rampant throughout the makeshift trailer park in New Orleans.
Political strategist Mike Baker asked,"How come CNN reported this and there was no mention of this on Fox News? Is it possible that Fox News is avoiding this in order not to embarrass the Bush administration?"
But then Baker adds that FEMA was a poorly run agency during the Clinton Administration, as well. He points to FEMA's response to Hurricane Floyd, a storm that devastated the Carolinas in 1995. "It took three weeks for FEMA to actually send help to those people in distress. In fact, Rev. Jesse Jackson complained on CNN that the Clinton Administration disregarded the suffering of thousands of people -- black and white," said Baker.
Political pundit and conservative strategist Rachel Marsden added, "Is it any wonder that poor people -- especially African-Americans -- have a strong distrust of government officials, especially at the federal level."
She also finds it appalling that members of congress such as Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Olympia Snow (R-ME) want to take a failing bureaucracy and actually make it bigger. Marsden claims that these liberals wish to create a paramilitary organization that will enter states having an emergency.
"Remember the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? The federal cops entered New Orleans and disarmed law-abiding citizens thereby leaving them vulnerable to looters and thugs. Do we want those kinds of agents working for FEMA?" she asked.
According to a CNN report seen on TV, people were complaining of eyes burning, choking, etc. while inside these FEMA trailers, even a CNN reporter said on TV he experienced similar eyes burning while covering the story. Also, neighbors living near FEMA trailer storage area, when the wind blew from these storage areas toward their homes they could smell the formaldehyde, even though they lived blocks away.
CNN also reported that FEMA was selling these trailers to the public at 40 cents on the dollar, and then, after everyone was complaining about the formaldehyde odor, they wound up buying the trailers back.
"Can't the government do anything right? How much did this blunder cost the taxpayers?" asked pundit Rachel Marsden.
"CNN also mentioned that these trailers, now rotting in storage lots, cost the government over $1.6 Billion," she said/
In a Sun Herald article Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC) claims his state was a "bull's-eye" for hurricanes. He pointed to a FEMA memorandum that warned agency employees of formaldehyde concerns in 2006.
"If FEMA knew health hazards [existed], why weren't people in the trailers warned in '06?" he asked.
Carlos Castillo, a FEMA assistant administrator, told lawmakers the agency wasn't aware of problems until May 2007. "We have a very active program to provide information to occupants of trailers," he said, adding that trailer residents were hand-delivered information, according to the Sun Herald news story.
"When FEMA first began to receive reports about formaldehyde concerns from occupants of travel trailers, the response was on a one-by-one basis and was immediate. As FEMA came to realize the scope of the issues, the agency has been taking aggressive action to share information with the public and address concerns about formaldehyde," according to government officials.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.