Another Gulf Oil Spill Disaster?

Those portable trailers used in the wake of hurricane Katrina that were found to contain unhealthy levels of formaldehyde, have returned to the Gulf Coast. But instead of FEMA being responsible for the trailers' return, local agencies and private companies have been buying the units to house workers involved in the oil spill cleanup effort. Pat Hernandez has more.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Mangement Agency provided about trailers to the thousands of people who lost their homes. They quickly became a symbol of the government's inept response to that disaster because the trailers were discovered to contain such high levels of formaldehyde. Federal regulators ordered that they banned from ever being used for long term housing again. But at a cost of nearly 130-million dollars to store and maintain them, the government decided to sell the trailers with the "not for permanent housing" stipulation. More than 100-thousand of the trailers have been sold in public auctions:

"Unfortunately, a lot of them have found their way to native American reservations, its just a scandal."

Alison Johnson chairs the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation, a non profit whose goal is to raise public awareness about multiple chemical sensitivity:

"At one point, people suggested sending them to Haiti, fortunately that idea was killed but, the ones that they have they should be destroying, and not putting them on the market."

Some of the trailers are getting a second life, as living quarters for workers involved in the cleanup of the gulf oil spill. They've been showing up in mobile home parks, open fields and local boatyards as thousands of cleanup workers have scrambled to find housing. Johnson says exposure to the formaldehyde will be felt:

"The other thing that's very different in the Gulf of Mexico situation is, the people down there were already exposed to high levels of contaminants with Katrina, because Katrina ruptured all sorts of pipelines. A lot of people don't realize, but there were 8-million gallons of oil released by Katrina, and that used to be the second spill in U.S. history. It's now the third. And then, a lot of those people ended up housed in FEMA trailers. You take people like that, and then you send them out to clean up the Gulf of Mexico spill, it really has the potential to be a real health disaster."

She says the government needs to find a way to make safer FEMA trailers, as they will be used for other disasters:

"They need to get some online as fast as they can before the next hurricane comes and really does the shore and drop oil on housing. Public officials in Louisiana say that any house that gets covered with oil from the hurricane will not be useful in the future."

In the meantime, the oil spill cleanup continues, and Johnson says it may be a problem without a good solution:

"I think BP and the world needs to be aware of this potential that people's health may be impacted for a long term in a huge way."

Pat Hernandez, KUHF News
Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...