After a year and a half of dismissing, ignoring and denying claims from hurricane Katrina and Rita victims that formaldehyde fumes building up in the travel trailers were making them sick, FEMA officials announced last week that they are moving trailer residents into hotels and apartments as fast as possible. At the New Orleans press conference, FEMA administrator David Paulison said, “The real issue is not what it will cost but how fast we can move people out.” He was accompanied by Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control, who addressed the agency’s findings in a formaldehyde study the CDC conducted for FEMA.
Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas. It is widely used to manufacture building materials and numerous household products, and its most significant use in homes is as an adhesive resin in pressed wood products. The CDC found that the formaldehyde levels inside the trailers ranged from five times the level found in typical homes to up to nearly 40 times customary exposure levels. Its report says that residents need to place a high priority on lowering exposure to formaldehyde. “This is especially important if residents of your trailer are elderly, young children, or have health conditions such as asthma.”
The report recommended that FEMA move quickly to relocate trailer residents, and to follow-up in offering assistance to Louisiana and Mississippi health departments to address medical needs. “FEMA should consider establishing a registry and long-term heath monitoring of children who resided in FEMA-supplied travel trailers and mobile homes.” FEMA is currently contacting every trailer resident with information about formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde exposure can cause headaches, nosebleeds, burning and watering eyes, sore throats, nausea, skin rashes and may set off asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. It is a known cancer-causing agent. According to New Iberia chemist and environmental consultant Wilma Subra, the need to monitor anyone who lived in a trailer is paramount. “When you leave the environment of the trailer, the symptoms should subside,” she says. “But if someone is re-exposed — and it’s the glue in things like particle board that contains formaldehyde, that could be in kitchen cabinets or bathrooms in any house they move into — they may have elevated symptoms again.”
Subra is concerned that people will move away, find new doctors, and fail to make the connection. It may be years before the ill effects of exposure to a carcinogen like formaldehyde are known. “It’s not just the people living in the trailers now who need long-term monitoring,” she says. “It’s people who moved out a year ago. They were exposed as well.”
The immediate relocation of families living in the trailers is FEMA’s first priority. “We’re not booting people out,” Paulison says. “What we’re doing is putting them into hotels and motels until we can find an apartment for them. It’s just transition, to get them out of the travel trailer and into someplace where it’s safer.” Louisiana has 25,162 occupied FEMA trailers and mobile homes — 137 in Lafayette Parish, 100 in Iberia and 66 in Vermilion.
Vicki Boudreaux, chief operations officer for Acadiana Outreach, who has been working with FEMA to help hurricanes Katrina and Rita evacuees since they lost their homes in the 2005 storms, says finding places for 137 families in Lafayette is going to be an insurmountable task. “Nothing in FEMA’s history leads me to believe they can pull off [a relocation] of all these people in two weeks. I’ve heard talk of hotels. That’s a nightmare. And no hotel is actually going to buy it. They remember all too well what they went through the first time. So I don’t think it’s going to be a hotel route. I’m not sure what their end result can be or should be or will be.”
Boudreaux says there is simply no affordable housing available. “When I say no houses, I don’t mean there’s maybe 20 houses and people don’t like where they’re located. You can’t find affordable places. We struggle with our clients, evacuee and non-evacuee all the time. If you want to stay in Lafayette and you want housing, I don’t know what the option is going to be.”
Boudreaux says emptying the trailers is going to create another evacuation, albeit smaller, than the one following the storms. “Short of re-creating another Cajundome emergency shelter, I don’t know where they’re going to go.”
FEMA’s formaldehyde hotline is (866) 562-2381 or TTY 1 (800) 462-7585. FEMA employees are available to discuss housing concerns at 1-866-562-2381, or TTY 1-800-462-7585. CDC specialists will respond to health-related concerns at 1-800-CDC-INFO. To register rental properties with FEMA, contact the agency at (888) 294-2822.
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.