April 1, 2008
Oliver Bernstein, 512-289-8618
Safe Emergency Housing for Disaster Victims;
Congress Investigates Toxic FEMA Trailers and Agency Response
Statement of Becky Gillette, formaldehyde campaign director for the Sierra Club, in response to today's U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight hearing on toxic Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
"We are very thankful that the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight is investigating this tragedy. We need strong national standards for indoor formaldehyde and a full investigation as to how FEMA and the CDC failed to protect the health of the most vulnerable Americans. Emergency housing should protect disaster victims and not expose them to further danger.
“Sierra Club began testing FEMA trailers in April 2006 and immediately found widespread formaldehyde contamination. It took CDC until October 2007 to publicly communicate the true threat of formaldehyde and the elevated levels its own testing had found. That was a one year delay in which tens of thousands of families were exposed to this toxic gas. People with pre-existing conditions like asthma were finding it hard to breathe. Mothers were waking up in the middle of the night to give breathing treatments to their children.
“Congress can help address these problems by calling for an independent federal National Academy of Sciences investigation of the process by which health consultations are developed and communicated. FEMA and CDC showed an appalling lack of urgency and a callous disregard for the health of FEMA trailer residents.
“Formaldehyde in building materials has been a problem for many years, but agency foot-dragging created the toxic trailer tragedy. The CDC needs to take immediate steps to do a nationwide survey and health consultation for formaldehyde in buildings. If there is one benefit that can come from all the suffering resulting from formaldehyde in FEMA trailers, let it be that we finally get this toxic gas out of building materials and give the citizens of the U.S. the same protections provided under the law in Europe, Japan and China.”
For a copy of Gillette’s complete testimony before the committee, please email Oliver.Bernstein@sierraclub.org or call 512-289-8618.
As the first organization to discover the toxicity of FEMA trailers, the Sierra Club has taken a lead role in fighting for better disaster assistance and emergency housing. Testing by the Sierra Club in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama showed that 88 percent of trailers tested in 2006 and 2007 had formaldehyde levels above the EPA's recommended limit. Many FEMA trailer residents reported not being able to stay in their trailers for more than five minutes without experiencing irritated eyes, breathing problems, headaches, nausea or skin rashes. Visit www.sierraclub.org/toxics for more information.