Two House subcommittees have sent letters to the Department of Homeland Security and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry asking why the Federal Emergency Management Agency interfered with a heath report on formaldehyde in trailers housing people displaced by Hurricane Katrina -- and why ATSDR complied with FEMA's demands that it not consider long-term exposure impacts including cancer.
According to information obtained by the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology, FEMA allegedly sought to insure that the health consultation would not include any long-term formaldehyde exposure considerations such as cancer, even though people living in the trailers were subjected to long-term exposure to the chemical, which is present in materials used to construct the trailers. The Environmental Protection Agency has classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen.
Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), chair of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee, said in statement:
"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. Honest scientific studies don't start with the conclusion, and then work backwards from there."
The subcommittees' investigation is continuing. Meanwhile, FEMA has denied any attempt to suppress information on the formaldehyde problem:
The health and safety of residents has been and continues to be our primary concern. FEMA has not and will not attempt to, nor will it condone any effort to, suppress or inappropriately influence any report from the Center for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) or any report from any agency, including any related to the effects of formaldehyde on residents in its direct housing program.
The agency has come under fire for being slow to act to protect public health after learning about high levels of formaldehyde in temporary housing for Katrina survivors. Trailer residents have also faced other problems including toxic mold and exploding propane tanks.