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Subcommittees Demand Explanation for Attempts to Control Report on Formaldehyde in Trailers Housing Hurricane Victims

Jan 28, 2008
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – The Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology today demanded answers from Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, about why the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) tried to control the outcome of a health guidance report on formaldehyde in trailers used to house victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Subcommittee Chairmen Brad Miller and Nick Lampson sent letters to Secretary Chertoff, who oversees FEMA, and to the division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) commissioned to do the health study - Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) – asking about the interference and why ATSDR complied.

According to information provided to the Subcommittees, FEMA explicitly sought to insure that no long-term exposure considerations that could include cancer risks would be included in the health consultation despite the obvious fact that the families living in the trailers were subjected to long term exposure.

“Documents obtained recently by the Committee make us question whether you used ‘best science’ or provided ‘trusted health information’ to some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, or just provided the evaluation that FEMA preferred,” Miller and Lampson wrote in the letter to ATSDR. The subcommittees are requesting all records of communications to, from or between FEMA.

“The evidence that FEMA ignored, hid and manipulated government research on the potential impact of long-term exposure to formaldehyde on Katrina victims now living in travel trailers is hard to ignore,” said Miller, Chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. “Honest scientific studies don’t start with the conclusion, and then work backwards from there.”

Apparently, for those with money to purchase these vehicles, the possibility of “adverse health effects” is so significant that FEMA is making what appears to be a “defective product” recall offer, the Chairmen wrote in the letter to Secretary Chertoff. In addition, the Chairmen referenced a FEMA position in 2006 for those who are too poor to live elsewhere - there are no possible adverse health effects that can’t be cured by opening the windows, and occupants who complain about formaldehyde fumes don’t “have to be in a trailer; you can pay for an apartment on your own.”

“Maintaining a high standard for scientific integrity in the U.S. and in the government is key to U.S. economic growth and security, period.  Any time I suspect that scientific analysis and findings are being censored to further a political agenda, that gets my attention and concern,” said U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon. “Our Committee has been looking closely at ATSDR for some time and we believe the report on formaldehyde in FEMA trailers may be just the tip of the iceberg. As Chairman, I assure you this will continue garnering the Committee's attention for some time to come."



110th Congress