Oversight Committee Takes Up Toxic Trailers
At a hearing today, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is examining the role manufacturers played in the Hurricane Katrina toxic trailers crisis. This isn’t the first time Committee chair Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has aimed the spotlight on the issue. Today its the turn for four manufacturers that supplied FEMA with trailers found to contain dangerous levels of formaldehyde. Since the scandal broke, FEMA has been working to evacuate the dangerous, temporary structures and move those living in the trailers into emergency shelter.
It looks like oversight committee ranking member Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) will be much more sympathetic to the manufacturers’ cause. "[W]e have to remember trailer manufacturers were pushed to their limits and did their best to help ill-prepared and disjointed government agencies respond to the disaster," Davis said in a statement. "Standards did not exist. Testing methods were not reliable. And occupants – already victimized by a 500-year storm – were caught in the middle."
Republican staff found that FEMA bought so many trailers in such a short period of time that one manufacturer had to nearly quadruple its regular output. They also found that when occupants complained about health problems, FEMA and EPA tested unoccupied trailers, not the trailers housing people with complaints.
Considering that FEMA knew about the high formaldehyde levels for two years before taking action, I would say this is at least a monumental failure on the part of that agency. Furthermore, the trailers were meant to provide emergency, temporary housing. Yet, FEMA housed hurricane victims in the trailers for years. The agency didn’t find an alternative until the formaldehyde news broke.
Naturally, FEMA declined to testify at today’s hearing. So we’ll see if any real progress gets made at all.