Opinion

FEMA's deadly trailers

As if victims of Hurricane Katrina don't have enough trouble, it now appears that thousands of them may have been poisoned by the federal agency that is supposed to be helping them.

High levels of the carcinogen formaldehyde -- the stuff once used to preserve dead frogs in biology class -- have been found in some of the trailers provided to 39,000 refugees from Katrina. People, some of whom have lived in the trailers for more than two years, have experienced a host of problems.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it would immediately relocate anyone in a trailer with health concerns. The agency hopes to move all those in contaminated trailers to more permanent housing by the end of the year.

While this is commendable, the time it took to discover the problem and the time it will take to move people from formaldehyde-laden trailers is disturbing. It is even more disturbing in light of the glacially slow response to the dire emergency caused by Katrina in the first place.

Long-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause a variety of ills, including itchy eyes, nosebleeds, pneumonia and cancer. The danger is made worse by heat and poor ventilation (think: Small trailer in the summer in New Orleans).

We hope the feds make good on their promise to quickly relocate those who have been exposed to formaldehyde. But their past record offers no real confidence that they will.

Heckuva job, FEMA!

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