FEMA's foibles

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Almost since the start of that ugly Labor Day weekend in 2005, when hurricanes ripped much of the South followed by the flooding of New Orleans, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been under fire.

The latest black mark on the agency is acknowledging, after months of denial, that trailers used for temporary housing give off dangerous levels of formaldehyde fumes.

Occupants of the trailers have complained for months about health problems they blamed on the preservative chemical that is used in construction materials. Formaldehyde has been blamed for breathing problems and may be a cancer-causing chemical.

Like so many other times since hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, FEMA's initial response to complaints about the trailers was to deny there was a problem. Now federal tax dollars squandered on trailers that can't be used for temporary housing will be bolstered by millions more for hotels, motels, apartments and other temporary housing to replace some 35,000 formaldehyde-contaminated trailers.

It is, indeed, a sad note that a federal agency set up to help people when they need assistance the most has handled hurricane relief so poorly. It is an even sadder note that, two and a half years after the hurricanes, there are still 35,000 households awaiting repairs or construction of permanent housing to replace structured ruined by wind and flooding.