WASHINGTON — Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to three high-ranking officials in the Obama administration regarding press reports that formaldehyde tainted trailers and temporary housing units are being sold and lived in by oil spill cleanup workers temporarily living in Louisiana.
The letter was sent to Attorney General Eric H. Holder, General Services Administration Administrator Martha N. Johnson, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator W. Craig Fugate.
Here’s the text of the letter:
“On June 30, the New York Times reported that formaldehyde-ridden temporary housing units (TSUs) or travel trailers originally used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina, are now being resold to unsuspecting oil spill cleanup workers temporarily living in Louisiana. Clearly, your efforts to prevent the resale of these trailers for human habitation have failed.
“On multiple occasions, I have questioned the sale of these formaldehyde-contaminated trailers. In those letters, I warned of the health threat posed by the sale of these trailers at public auction and stressed to FEMA, the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) that such units would likely be resold to consumers with no warning of their toxicity.
“In response to these concerns, your respective agencies have repeatedly issued assurances attesting either to the safety of the units or the soundness of the process. For instance, when I expressed concerns that these formaldehyde-contaminated units were being sold at public auction to unsuspecting buyers, in a letter dated April 1, 2009, FEMA indicated that the GSA buyers’ certification language would be strengthened to require all buyers to certify that these units would not be used as housing.
“Additionally, according to FEMA and GSA, these buyers would be required to inform any subsequent purchaser that these units should not be used for human habitation and should not be sold as housing units. Buyers were also required to acknowledge that the units they were buying might have formaldehyde.
“The New York Times article concerning the use of these formaldehyde-contaminated trailers as housing indicated that FEMA, GSA and DOJ’s efforts to prevent these units from entering the stream of commerce, serving as dwellings suitable for human habitation, or preventing exposure to unsuspecting residents have failed.
“Once again, these trailers are endangering the lives and health of Gulf Coast residents. In other words, as I predicted several years ago, certifications, warnings and pasted on disclaimers are not enough to protect health and safety.
“The dumping of over 100,000 trailers, recreational vehicles and mobile homes into the stream of commerce with a simple buyer beware is inexcusable and reckless. Many of these units have alarming levels of formaldehyde, mold and mildew festering inside, and now they are housing many of the workers that our nation is relying upon to help us recover from the devastating effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“It is simply irresponsible for our federal government to allow this to continue. For these reasons, I am requesting that at a minimum, you investigate the following:
- It is apparent that from this article the purchasers of the THUs are in violation of their agreement with GSA. What steps is GSA taking to investigate this matter. Should the purchases be found in violation of the agreement, what penalties will they face when the DOJ begins prosecutions?
- It was stated in the article that FEMA placed decals on the THUs stating that they were not to be used as housing. What type of decals or warning stickers did FEMA place inside each trailer? If decals were placed inside the trailers, why did subsequent purchasers claim that there were no such decals? If these decals were removed from the units prior to resale, what are the penalties for doing so?
- The article states the GSA inspector general has opened at least seven cases concerning buyers who might not have posted the certification and formaldehyde warnings on trailers they sold. What is the status of each case and has the inspector general opened any additional cases as a result of the New York Times article?
- Did any purchaser provide documentation indicating how they intended to use the trailers? If so, please provide to the committee.”
SOURCE: Rep. Bennie Thompson press release