Newly-released documents show top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have suppressed internal warnings about dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in trailers inhabited by Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
Several emails show FEMA field workers warned the evacuees were living amidst levels of potentially cancerous formaldehyde gas that was seventy-five times the recommended maximum for U.S. workers. As many as one hundred twenty thousand families lived in the suspected trailers.
Hundreds have complained of health effects, but the emails show FEMA officials were only concerned with avoiding any legal liability for the evacuees' potential health problems.
Three months after the complaints surfaced publicly, a FEMA official wrote agency lawyers had advised against carrying out tests because doing so, "would imply FEMA's ownership of this issue." On June 15, 2006, FEMA lawyer Patrick Preston wrote, "Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK.... Once you get results and should they indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them." Eleven days later, an evacuee, who had complained about the chemicals, was found dead in his trailer.
In a subsequent conference call, FEMA attorneys rejected calls for an independent investigation into his death and wider trailer tests.