Friday, February 16, 2007

FEMA Trailers Poisoning Katrina's Homeless

I wish I could get you the full text of this article, but in order to read it online you have to be an actual subscriber to the print edition of The Nation (they need to rethink that model, for sure). But regardless, it's important for all of us to remember that the devastation of Hurricane Katrina is ongoing, and Amanda Spake's article in the 2/26/07 issue of the magazine highlights an issue nobody is talking enough about: the apparently dire health risks of living in FEMA trailers never designed for long-term use.

According to Spake's article,
"Along the Gulf Coast, in the towns and fishing villages from New Orleans to Mobile, survivors of Hurricane Katrina are suffering from a constellation of similar health problems. They wake up wheezing, coughing and gasping for breath. Their eyes burn; their heads ache; they feel tired, lethargic. Nosebleeds are common, as are sinus infections and asthma attacks. Children and seniors are most severely afflicted, but no one is immune."
What's to blame for these ailments? It turns out that most of the trailers that were constructed at breakneck speed to house those left homeless by Katrina were built with "composite wood, particle board and other materials that emit formaldehyde, a common but toxic chemical." Tests of currently occupied trailers have registered levels of formaldehyde well in excess of the EPA's recommended limit.

Given FEMA's initial response to the Hurricane, it should be no surprise that they are doing close to nothing to help the folks who are currently being poisoned by the homes they have no choice but to live in. I imagine that the only thing that will make any sort of difference is public pressure--and, as Spake suggests, pressure from the new Congress. So write your representative and remind him/her that killing people because they're poor is not ok. And if you subscribe to The Nation, write them a letter thanking them for uncovering yet another horrible truth about what it means to be poor in America.

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