Here’s a quick time line of events on FEMA’s toxic trailers and the consistent work by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR).
- Aug. 2005 – FEMA provides 120,000 trailers. About 40,000 are currently used by displaced Gulf Coast residents.
- March 2006 – FEMA recognizes the presence and danger of formaldehyde in its trailers, but does not notify the public.
- May 2006 – The Sierra Club, an environmental group, tests FEMA trailers in Mississippi and Louisiana and finds high levels of formaldehyde.
- Fall 2006 – FEMA and the Environmental Protection Agency test these trailers for formaldehyde, and send the test results to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a partner agency of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Feb. 2007 – ATSDR reviews the test results and advises FEMA that formaldehyde levels in trailers "were below those expected to produce adverse health effects."
- July 19, 2007 – The US Congress Oversight & Reform Committee holds hearings to investigate FEMA’s failure to respond to complaints about formaldehyde in trailers.
- Dec. 21, 2007 - Jan. 13, 2008 – CDC tests over 500 FEMA trailers for formaldehyde.
- Feb. 1, 2008 – FEMA announces that it will close trailer parks and evict residents by June 1, 2008.
- Feb. 12, 2008 – CDC publicly announces that FEMA trailers have unsafe levels of formaldehyde, and urges the people living in FEMA trailers to move.
- Feb. 25-28, 2008 – CDC holds public meetings in Louisiana that provides about 10 minutes for a full question and answer session with people living in FEMA trailers and the public.
A look at the work by the federal health agency ATSDR in Louisiana communities prior to Hurricane Katrina
Mossville, LA - ATSDR has determined that African Americans living in Mossville, LA, which is located next to Lake Charles, have elevated levels of dioxin in their blood. Dioxin is a toxic group of the deadliest chemicals known to science, which cause cancer and other severe health problems. However, ATSDR failed to recommend any action to prevent ongoing exposures to the dioxins that are routinely released by several of the industrial facilities near the Mossville community.
Agriculture Street, New Orleans, LA - ATSDR supported EPA’s removal of heavily contaminated soil while residents of the Agriculture Street neighborhood in New Orleans remained in their homes. ATSDR summarily determined that the elevated concentrations of the numerous toxic chemicals and heavy metals below ground, and the potential adverse health effects of residents being exposed to unearthed toxins, did not warrant any protection such as relocating residents during EPA’s excavation work.
Gert Town, New Orleans, LA - ATSDR co-authored a health consultation report that failed to assess the health condition of Gert Town residents in New Orleans who live near the shuttered Thompson Hayward facility that once mixed and blended DDT and other harmful pesticides and herbicides. Instead, ATSDR confined its report to an analysis of a few yard samples collected by EPA, and concluded that a "thick grassy cover of their yards" would protect residents’ health.