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Sierra Club
Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet
RAW: Uncooked Truth, Beyond Belief

Issue #244
February 15, 2008
Bush's Toxic (Trailer) Legacy
Josh Dorner

Almost two years ago the Sierra Club dropped a bombshell when it revealed the results of tests we conducted on the air inside the trailers issued to victims of Hurricane Katrina by the notorious Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Our tests -- later corroborated by others -- found levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde that were between 5 and 50 more than acceptable levels. In addition to the long-term health risks posed by living in a steamy stew of carcinogens, victims living in the trailers were subject to immediate respiratory distress and other problems. Some may even have died as a result of their exposure to the toxic chemicals.

The air inside the trailers was so dangerous that FEMA warned its own employees about the danger of merely stepping inside to test the air -- much less spending months, if not years, living in one of these toxic tin cans. 

This sad saga has followed a now-predictable pattern of Bush administration incompetence. Whistleblowing, denial. Media investigation and confirmation, more denial. More complaints, insult the victim. Congressional investigations, still more denial. Quiet acknowledgment of fault, then foot-dragging and inaction.

Then as only it can do, the Bush administration added insult to injury by needlessly visiting its incompetence on countless others. Long after the dangers were widely known, the administration tried to send the trailers to victims of a tornado in Kansas, Native Americans in South Dakota (something one person likened to "modern smallpox blankets") , victims of the California wildfires, and then even wanted to sell thousands to the general public.

The alarm was sounded again today -- this time from within the administration itself. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed that the formaldehyde levels inside the trailers rose to as much as 40 times the level considered dangerous. "We do not want people exposed to this for very much longer," a CDC official said. Unfortunately, about 35,000 people are still living in the toxic trailers.

FEMA's response? Sending more of the toxic trailers to Arkansas and Tennessee for tornado victims.

It's hard to decide which is more toxic: formaldehyde or the Bush legacy?

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