Federal officials sold hundreds of emergency trailers for disaster victims at fire-sale prices in the months before Hurricane Sandy churned toward the United States, according to a report by The Washington Examiner.
Now, with thousands of families left homeless in New York and New Jersey by the hurricane, those same federal officials are poised to spend more taxpayer dollars to buy brand-new trailers.
In all, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sold nearly 900 of the prefabricated temporary homes – none more than four years old and most used only once – since 2009, according to the newspaper’s analysis of federal surplus property auctions.
The agency even sold two trailers on Oct. 22, the same day the National Weather Service upgraded a tropical depression and christened it Sandy. Forecasters began warning the same day of a possible super-storm making landfall somewhere in North Carolina or further north in heavily populated areas of the Eastern Seaboard as far as Maine.
Neither FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate during a Nov. 8 news teleconference, nor other agency officials in the days since could say how many trailers were in the agency’s inventory in the week prior to the storm, or how many have since been requested from FEMA by residents in the areas hit hardest by Sandy. The agency depends upon state officials to tell it how many units are needed.
Fugate said FEMA would buy or lease additional units “if necessary,” and said his agency has “looked at our ability to contract for additional (units), which would come from new manufacturing or come from existing housing stock.” An agency spokesman separately told The Examiner that 40 units were at a staging area near Lakehurst, N.J.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing mobile homes to hard-hit areas of New York and New Jersey where residents were displaced by Superstorm Sandy, FEMA’s chief said on Thursday.
Reuters reported that the trailers will be delivered to storm-struck towns in those states, agency head Craig Fugate told reporters during a conference call briefing.
Homes in New York and New Jersey suffered some of the greatest damage in the massive storm.
Fugate did not know the number of trailers involved and said their final destination was still under discussion.
“We’re working on which sites they are going to go to,” he said. “It’s HUD-approved housing, often called mobile homes.”
FEMA has already provided temporary housing such as hotel rooms to residents of hard-hit Long Island, the coastal suburb east of New York City. He said some people have had to travel as far as Albany, about 150 miles north of New York City, to find available temporary housing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says the last Katrina trailer is now out of the city of New Orleans.
“Another page has turned in New Orleans’ post-Katrina history,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a news release. “At the end of the day, FEMA trailers were never meant to be permanent housing units, so I’m glad that our code enforcement efforts coupled with FEMA case work has helped individuals transition to permanent housing.”
The mayor says they have moved 230 FEMA trailers out over the past 14 months.
“For more than six years, temporary housing units were located on private properties, group and industrial sites, and in commercial mobile home/RV parks across New Orleans while the residents recovered from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina,” said FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office Deputy Director of Programs Andre Cadogan. “The transition of this final household is a huge success for our agency, the state, the city, local nonprofits, and all others who contributed to helping return normalcy to New Orleans and those who live here.”
Officials say crews removed the last trailer Sunday after the final family moved into a rebuilt home last week.
The trailers were part of what FEMA calls “the largest housing operation in the history of the country.”
In response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA moved approximately 92,000 families throughout Louisiana into travel trailers, mobile homes and park models.
The agency notes that FEMA has provided approximately $5.8 billion to assist 915,884 individuals and families in Louisiana for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including $4.2 billion in housing assistance for rent, repairs and replacement housing and $1.6 billion in other needs assistance for such things as furniture, clothing and replacement vehicles.
Mississippi and Alabama residents cannot sue the U.S. government over emergency trailers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided when Hurricane Katrina made thousands of homes uninhabitable, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Courthouse News Service reported that agreeing with the August 2010 decision of a federal judge, the federal appeals court said the plaintiffs, representing 10,000 residents, lack subject-matter jurisdiction to sue since FEMA provided the trailers at no cost to residents and under no obligation.
In 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes along the Gulf Coast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency contracted private businesses to immediately construct and provide thousands of travel trailers to give residents as temporary shelter until other housing became available.
FEMA trailers were available at no cost to residents for use as temporary emergency housing from September 2005 until May 2009. Applications for receiving the trailers notified residents that the units were intended for temporary use and that applicants were required to accept alternative housing options as they became available.
Seven months in, FEMA began receiving complaints from trailer occupants about formaldehyde odors inside the units. Formaldehyde is a chemical substance commonly found in construction materials such as plywood, particle board, home furnishing and fabrics. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies it as a probable human carcinogen.
FEMA notified these early complainants to ventilate the trailers by opening the doors and windows. In June 2006, FEMA prepared an informal brochure informing trailer occupants of the dangers of formaldehyde exposure, encouraging them to ventilate their units and urging them to seek medical help if they developed health problems related to formaldehyde.
It began working with the EPA on the issue in September 2006, with more than 200 occupants had complained to FEMA about formaldehyde by the end of the year. After lawsuits over the substance began accumulating, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all the cases and assigned the matter to Louisiana’s Eastern District.
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The owner of a campground near Joplin, Mo., said he is struggling to pay utilities and maintenance costs because of what he believed to be a good deed after the tornado hit this summer, KOAM-TV, Pittsburg, Kan., reported.
Shortly after the tornado, many displaced residents camped at the Shoal Creek Resort. The owner chose not to charge the survivors and said he was told by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) that he would eventually be taken care of.
He said government help never came.
The campground’s owner said he’s almost $200,000 in debt because of utilities and maintenance costs. FEMA says rules don’t allow the agency to help.
“There would need to be an agreement between two entities prior to the event that lays out all the terms to which they are agreeing on how an emergency shelter would be handled,” says Krystal Payton of FEMA.
Part of the campground’s electricity was shut off on Thursday (Dec. 1) and the campground’s owner has put his property up for sale.
Companies that manufactured mobile homes for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina have agreed to pay $2.6 million to resolve thousands of claims that the shelters exposed Gulf Coast storm victims to potentially dangerous fumes, according to a proposed class-action settlement filed Friday (Jan. 21).
Attorneys for plaintiffs and roughly two dozen mobile home makers and their subsidiaries are asking a federal judge to approve the deal, which would be the second mass settlement of claims over formaldehyde exposure in the government-issued housing units FEMA ordered after the 2005 storms, The Associated Press reported.
One of the plaintiffs’ lead lawyers said the settlement came after a key ruling by the judge severely hurt his side’s position.
The settlement could benefit several thousand families in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama who claim they were exposed to dangerous levels of formaldehyde while living in FEMA mobile homes. The chemical, commonly found in building materials, can cause breathing problems and is classified as a carcinogen.
The settlement doesn’t involve claims for residents who lived in FEMA travel trailers, which housed the majority of storm victims. Travel trailers are smaller and less sturdy than mobile homes and are more prone to elevated levels of formaldehyde.
The mobile home companies involved in the proposed settlement include Cavalier Home Builders, Patriot Homes Inc., CMH Manufacturing and Champion Home Builders. A lawyer for the companies said he couldn’t immediately comment on the deal.
In May 2009, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt dismissed some of the state law claims filed against mobile home makers, ruling they were barred under federal law. Engelhardt said Congress never intended to allow states to set higher safety standards for mobile homes than those imposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Gerald Meunier, a lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, said Engelhardt’s ruling dealt a serious blow to mobile home residents’ claims against the companies.
“The only way you win is to show they broke HUD’s rules,” Meunier said. “If they complied with HUD’s rules, you’re out of luck.”
The companies agreed to pay a total of $2,625,000 into the settlement fund, but they continue to deny any wrongdoing and believe the claims are without merit, the agreement says.
A court-appointed special master will present Engelhardt with a plan for distributing the money before a “fairness hearing” is held on the proposal. Attorneys’ fees and other expenses will be deducted from the $2.6 million and are capped at 48% of the fund.
Meunier said he expects his clients to understand that they weren’t in a position to reap a big windfall from the deal.
“I think they’re going to be accepting of it once they understand the impact of (Engelhardt’s) ruling,” he said.
Meunier added that the judge’s ruling didn’t affect claims against travel trailer makers.
“Travel trailers are vehicles. They have VIN numbers. They’re not HUD regulated,” he said.
Becky Gillette, the Sierra Club’s formaldehyde campaign director, said it appears the settlement will pay each family well under $1,000 apiece if several thousand qualify for awards.
“I don’t see it benefits them that much,” she said. “Now they might have enough money to go to McDonald’s, but it wouldn’t pay for even one child’s visit to the emergency room because they’re having difficulty breathing.”
Three cases against companies that manufactured and installed FEMA travel trailers have been tried before Engelhardt, who is presiding over a batch of hundreds of consolidated lawsuits. The juries in all three trials sided with the companies and didn’t award any damages.
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., which supplied FEMA with travel trailers before it filed for bankruptcy in 2009, agreed last year to a settlement resolving about 7,500 to 8,000 claims. Terms of that deal weren’t disclosed.
FEMA downplayed residents’ formaldehyde concerns before government tests on hundreds of trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi found formaldehyde levels that were, on average, about five times what people are exposed to in most modern homes.
Companies that manufactured mobile homes for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina are nearing a settlement to resolve thousands of claims that the emergency shelters exposed Gulf Coast storm victims to potentially dangerous fumes, court records show.
A proposed class-action settlement involving about two dozen mobile home manufacturers and their subsidiaries is expected to be filed today (Jan. 21), The Associated has reported. A court filing Tuesday says the companies and plaintiffs’ attorneys are “very close” to finalizing an agreement, which would have to be approved by a federal judge in New Orleans.
A lead plaintiffs’ attorney and a lawyer for the companies that made mobile homes for FEMA wouldn’t comment Thursday on the financial terms of the settlement.
The companies involved include Cavalier Home Builders, Patriot Homes Inc., CMH Manufacturing and Champion Home Builders.
The deal could benefit several thousand families in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama who lived in government-issued mobile homes after the 2005 storms and claim they were exposed to dangerous levels of formaldehyde — a chemical used in building materials that can cause breathing problems and is classified as a carcinogen.
“It’s a slow and steady process, but this is a large step in the right direction toward the hopeful resolution of all claims,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Justin Woods.
The settlement doesn’t involve claims for residents who lived in FEMA travel trailers, which housed the majority of hurricane victims. Government tests found that travel trailers had significantly higher average formaldehyde levels than mobile homes, which are larger and sturdier.
If U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt approves the deal, it would be the second mass settlement of claims over formaldehyde exposure in the government-issued housing units that FEMA ordered after the 2005 storms.
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., which supplied FEMA with travel trailers, agreed last year to a settlement resolving about 7,500 to 8,000 claims, according to attorney Jerry Saporito, who represented the company. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Fleetwood had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009.
Three cases against companies that manufactured and installed FEMA travel trailers have been tried before Engelhardt, who is presiding over a batch of hundreds of consolidated lawsuits. The juries in all three trials sided with the companies and didn’t award any damages.
In May 2009, Engelhardt dismissed some of the state law claims filed against mobile home makers, ruling they were barred under federal law. Engelhardt said Congress never intended to allow states to set higher safety standards for mobile homes than those imposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“This would essentially require each mobile home manufacturer to tailor its industry, state-by-state, in an attempt to comply with the peculiarities of each state’s law, as then interpreted by each particular state’s judiciary,” the judge wrote. “This outcome is clearly at odds with the goal of uniformity that Congress sought.”
More than 143,000 families received temporary housing from FEMA after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
FEMA initially downplayed concerns that elevated levels of formaldehyde were jeopardizing their health. In February 2008, however, the agency announced it would rush to move tens of thousands of residents out of travel trailers.
The U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, has upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss with prejudice a man’s suit against Keystone RV Co. relating to travel trailers provided for hurricane victims in 2005, according to www.leagle.com.
Raymond Bell III was one of thousands of plaintiffs who filed suit against Keystone and other RV builders, claiming the units provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contained toxic levels of formaldehyde.
The “FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Products Liability Litigation” has engulfed the RV industry for several years, but to date no RV maker has been found guilty of building or providing harmful products.
Bell sued Keystone, Shaw Environmental Inc. and FEMA.
Bell challenged the dismissal with prejudice of his case following the district court’s denial of his requests either to substitute a new “bellwether” 1 plaintiff or to continue the scheduled trial date.
The court’s actions were taken in the course of its management of thousands of similar consolidated suits for allegedly injurious formaldehyde exposure in FEMA trailers following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“After reviewing all the factors that affected the district court’s decisions, we find no abuse of discretion and affirm,” the federal court announced on Tuesday (Dec. 14).
In the days after hurricane Katrina devastated southern Louisiana and Mississippi, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bought 145,000 trailers to house the thousands of victims displaced by the storm. Over the next five years, the trailers — which emitted formaldehyde vapors, but which were nevertheless used by thousands who couldn’t find any other place to live — became a symbol of the federal government’s bumbling in the face of a national tragedy. Sold at auction, and then repurposed as housing for BP cleanup workers, the trailers remain a problem that just won’t go away, Daily Finance reported.
The FEMA trailer debacle began with the highest of hopes and the best of intentions. Using temporary housing to shelter victims of natural disasters is hardly a new idea; in the wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, survivors lived in temporary shacks, and FEMA used trailers after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1994. When Katrina destroyed 75% of the housing units in New Orleans, the agency scurried to respond to the disaster, spending $2.7 billion on 145,000 trailers and mobile homes to house an estimated 770,000 newly-homeless victims of the hurricane.
Unfortunately, in the rush to find temporary housing, problems quickly emerged. Many of the trailers FEMA purchased were, by its own standards, unsuitable for deployment in a flood plain. Even worse, an estimated 42% of them emitted formaldehyde, a chemical that causes nasal cancer and nosebleeds, and can aggravate asthma and other respiratory problems. Nevertheless, faced with a choice between homelessness or living in toxic trailers, thousands chose to stay in the FEMA trailers.
Originally, the trailers were supposed to house residents for a maximum of 18 months. But five years after Katrina hit the Gulf coast, 860 Louisiana and 176 Mississippi families still live in FEMA-owned shelters. But those residents represent only a fraction of the problem: According to experts, thousands of other Katrina victims live in trailers purchased from FEMA, while 12,000 people are still homeless in New Orleans.
Meanwhile, since 2006, FEMA has sold over 130,000 of the trailers for a total of $279 million; at one auction in January 2010, the agency sold 93,000 of them for $133 million. The sales prompted massive controversy, partially for the poor resale cost: the January sale yielded approximately seven cents on the dollar. More importantly, critics worried that the formaldehyde-emitting trailers, many of which were outfitted with labels declaring them unfit for human habitation, would be passed along to bargain-hunting home buyers.
During the BP oil spill cleanup, an even more insidious development occurred: as the New York Times reported in June, the trailers — often missing their government-mandated warning labels — were re-purposed as temporary housing for cleanup workers. The shelters may have lacked proper documentation, but they still had the formaldehyde. For example, Alpha-One, a disaster contracting firm in the Gulf area, sold dozens of the trailers to cleanup companies. Asked about the sale, the company’s owner, Ron Mason, dismissed the formaldehyde threat: “Look, you know that new car smell? Well, that’s formaldehyde, too. The stuff is in everything. It’s not a big deal.”
A federal court jury in New Orleans on Monday (May 24) found in favor of RV manufacturer Recreation by Design LLC, Elkhart, Ind., in the third ”bellwether” lawsuit involving allegedly formaldehyde-laced trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as temporary housing for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The jury deliberated for about two hours after hearing eight days of testimony that alleged that Earlene Castanel’s health had been damaged by a trailer laden with formaldehyde.
”There have been three trials and all of them have resulted in defense verdicts,” said Andrew Weinstock, a partner in the Metairie, La., lawfirm of Duplass, Zwain, Bourgeois, Pfister and Weinstock.
Recreation by Design and other RV manufacturers sold tens of thousands of emergency living units to FEMA following the 2005 hurricanes.
Two previous suits involving Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind. — in which Weinstock was lead attorney — and Forest River Inc., Elkhart, Ind., have resulted in favorable verdicts for RV manufacturers.
Another lawsuit again Gulf Stream is expected to go to trial in September with a others to follow, unless plaintiffs and defendants come to a settlement.
Weinstock estimated that 60,000 lawsuits have been filed against builders of the FEMA trailers.
”That’s a guesstimate and I think it’s a pretty good one,” Weinstock said.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt earlier ruled that the lawsuits couldn’t be combined as a class action, meaning that each lawsuit had to be tried individually.
The ”bellwether” trials for a handful of claims chosen from among hundreds that had been filed are designed to help the New Orleans court test the cases’ merits and possibly settle other claims over formaldehyde exposure in FEMA trailers.
Weinstock said that at some point, defendants are likely to find the lawsuits untenable if juries continue to deliver verdicts in favor of RV manufacturers.
”(Plaintiff attorneys) signed up a lot of people and at some point, we need to figure out which have cases and which don’t,” Weinstock said. ”The challenge (for defense attorneys) is figuring out what makes on a case with merit and which ones don’t.
”We’ve not done an inventory on who has filed suits. But obviously, we are not going to try 60,000 cases.”
A main point that Recreation by Design lawyers made in defense of the company was that there is little evidence that formaldehyde levels in the trailers were out of the ordinary.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tested more than 500 trailers and found only six with formaldehyde levels in excess of levels established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for manufactured homes.
The title of hearings Wednesday (April 28) before the House Energy Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection was, “The Public Sales of Hurricane Katrina/Rita FEMA Trailers: Are they Safe or Environmental Time Bombs?”
The bipartisan consensus on the committee seemed to be leaning heavily toward “environmental time bombs,” but now that the General Services Administration has completed the sale of more than 100,000 of the trailers, it is not clear what Congress can do about it, according to NOLA.com
“We’ve seen that there is an unsafe level of formaldehyde in some of these trailers and I don’t think it’s the wisest thing for the federal government to be selling those and having people live in them and experience more health problems,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., a member of the subcommittee. “We’ve got to figure out a better way to handle this … to see if we can unravel this.”
“Unbelievably, these are the same trailers that made thousands of people ill, some severely ill, from exposure to formaldehyde gases and vapors; young children, elderly people and those with serious respiratory conditions, from asthma to bronchitis, inhaled these vapors over long, extended periods of time,” said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who chairs the subcommittee. “Am I the only one left scratching his head at this outcome?”
But David Garratt, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) associate administrator for mission support, defended the sales. He said that the mobile homes, park models and travel trailers returned to FEMA after their use along the Gulf Coast and auctioned off this year at bargain prices, met existing industry standards. And, he said, buyers of the travel trailers — which are the ones that posed the most danger and were never intended to provide long-term housing — had to certify that they understood the formaldehyde risk and that the travel trailers “are not intended to be used as housing.”
“Subsequent owners must continue to similarly inform subsequent buyers for the life of the unit,” said Garratt, though some members of the committee seemed dubious that would always happen.
Garratt estimated the cost to the government of storing and maintaining the previously used units had run close to $130 million a year.
While filmmaker Gabe Chasnoff, who produced and directed “Renaissance Village,” a documentary about the formaldehyde trailers, played a clip Wednesday that included then Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff’s declaration at a congressional hearing in 2008 that, “we are out of the trailer business,” Garratt said that is not the case.
Travel trailers are the only models small enough to be placed on people’s properties while they rebuild and, in future disasters, Garratt said, FEMA will rely on a new inventory of trailers built for FEMA to new higher air-quality standards. And, they will only be placed on properties where the repairs can be completed in a about six months.
At the beginning of the hearing, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the formaldehyde fiasco highlighted the inadequacy of the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to “assess and restrict dangerous chemicals,” power that might have averted “this problem in the first place.”
EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator James Jones testified that EPA’s draft assessment on the dangers of formaldehyde should be released in the next month or so.
But in his testimony, Dr. Corey Hebert, an associate professor of pediatrics at Tulane University Medical Center and the chief medical officer of the Recovery School District, said that in its broadest strokes, the verdict on formaldehyde is already in.
“We know it’s a carcinogen,” said Hebert, who said that the market fails to heed that fact because “this is America, this is capitalism, this is what we do.” Hebert said no trailers should have been resold until any formaldehyde peril was remediated.
A New Orleans jury took less than three hours on Monday (March 29) to reject a man’s claim that toxic levels of formaldehyde in a FEMA trailer where he lived for two years after Hurricane Katrina caused a benign throat tumor and made him vomit blood, according to the Courthouse News Service.
The eight-person jury cleared trailer manufacturer Forest River Inc., based in Elkhart, Ind.
The jury found that the trailer in which 39-year-old Lyndon Wright lived was not “unreasonably dangerous” in construction or design. And it found that Shaw Environmental Inc. of Baton Rouge was not negligent in installing the trailer.
It’s the second straight win for trailer manufacturers. In September 2009, a jury cleared Gulf Stream Coach Inc., which supplied FEMA with emergency travel trailers, of similar claims.
FEMA, which provided more than 140,000 travel trailers to Katrina refugees, was not a defendant in this trial, as was originally expected. Before the trial started, U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt ruled that Wright did not file paperwork alleging personal injury within the proper time frame, which exempted FEMA from participation in the trial.
Frank D’Amico Jr., one of Wright’s attorneys, said the verdict was disappointing, but that it doesn’t mean anything for cases awaiting trial.
“Every case turns on its own,” he said.
Forest River attorney Ernest Geiger called the verdict is “a victory for common sense.”
In his closing arguments, Geiger said that in Wright’s tax returns for 2007 and 2008 he claimed 10,000 business miles, and his earnings rose over the two years.
“Look how much he was working,” Geiger said, adding that if Wright had been as sick as he claimed, it would have affected his ability to work.
“Shaw is obviously very pleased with the verdict, which we consider to be validation for the work Shaw conducted for those affected by Hurricane Katrina,” Shaw spokeswoman Gentry Brann said in a statement.
D’Amico said in his closing argument that since FEMA does not know how to build a trailer, it relied on Forest River to make a quality product, and that Forest River acknowledged that it does not build products for the long term, only for temporary housing.
As the trial opened two weeks ago, Judge Engelhardt told the jury which “undisputed facts” all parties agreed to be true. Among them was that FEMA had provided 143,000 travel trailers to Katrina refugees; that of those 143,000 Forest River manufactured 5,000 units; and that Forest River used only low formaldehyde emitting (LFE) wood in its travel trailers.
Formaldehyde is considered a known human carcinogen by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Wright’s lawyers had asked that Wright be awarded $65,000 in future medical expenses and an unspecified amount for pain and suffering.
A third trial against FEMA-contracted travel trailer manufacturers is scheduled for May.
Two major liability trials begin today in federal court in New Orleans.
The claims of toxic formaldehyde emissions from FEMA-supplied trailers for hurricane refugees, and hazardous emissions from Chinese-made drywall, are both the second in a series of “test” trials of multidistrict litigation, in which plaintiffs and defendants change but the complaints remain essentially the same — long-term health problems from hazardous chemicals, and property damage in the drywall complaints, according to the Courthouse News Service.
Hundreds of thousands of such liability suits resulted from the chaotic rebuilding process after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Building materials are blamed for widespread illnesses caused by breathing the toxic fumes.
In addition, the Chinese-made drywall has been blamed for corroding copper and other metal surfaces, causing problems with wiring and plumbing, and ruining household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and dryers.
Tatum and Charlene Hernandez are plaintiffs in the Chinese drywall trial; Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin is the lead defendant. U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon will preside over that bench trial.
Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt will preside over the jury trial in the FEMA trailer trial brought by Lyndon Wright against trailer manufacturer Forest River Inc. and the environmental testing firm Shaw Environmental.
The United States will also be a defendant in this trial, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Because of a last-minute decision by Judge Engelhardt last summer, FEMA was not included as a defendant in the first FEMA trailer trial against Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind.
The complaint to be tried beginning this week, filed in March 2009, claims Forest River supplied trailers to FEMA that contained toxic levels of formaldehyde.
Forest River and other manufacturers supplied tens of thousands of trailers for emergency use after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
The trailer makers subsequently faced lawsuits from hurricane victims who said the formaldehyde made them sick.
Company lawyers say the trailers were safe.
On Sept. 24, a jury took just four hours to clear Gulf Stream Coach of such accusations from a family that occupied a trailer made by the company
Galveston (Texas) City Council members Thursday (Jan. 28) extended the deadline through July 9 for Hurricane Ike victims living in Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile homes and privately owned trailers and recreational vehicles.
The move came despite reservations about allowing displaced residents to live in those temporary structures into a second hurricane season. Hurricane season officially begins June 1, according to the Galveston County Daily News.
Galveston County already had extended the deadline from March 12 to July 9 after FEMA granted the state’s request to extend the deadline a month ago.
More than 100 families still are living in FEMA trailers in Galveston, and scores of other islanders still are living in private trailers as they await federal disaster recovery dollars to repair and rebuild their houses.
Families still living in FEMA mobile homes are on a fast track for getting their houses repaired under the recovery program funded by $104 million in round-one community development block grant money, but the construction likely won’t start until April, city officials have said.
The new deadline also applies to temporary storage units.
“As you know, I have expressed great concern for the safety of these units due to the presence of formaldehyde. While I continue to believe that these units should not be used for human habitation, I do believe that they could be of some benefit on a short-term, limited basis if the appropriate safeguards are provided,” Thompson wrote in the letter.
International medical and search-and-rescue teams, for example, might use the trailers for short-term shelter or as emergency clinics for the treatment of minor injuries, Thompson suggested. But he disapproved of any prolonged occupation of a trailer by victims requiring a place to live.
“However, given the potential for adverse health affects when used as more than short-term shelter, I would be gravely concerned about distributing these units to the people of Haiti for use as housing. This country’s immediate response to help in this humanitarian crisis should not be blemished by later concerns over adverse health consequences precipitated by our efforts,” Thompson warned.
FEMA did not return calls from Homeland Security Today inquiring about the safety of the trailers for human habitation.
Earlier last week, Thompson objected to FEMA’s public auction of mobile homes and trailers used by victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Thompson acknowledged that FEMA was attempting to recoup funds lost in the mismanagement of the trailers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005. The Bush administration, Thompson accused, did not assess needs before purchasing trailers, paid too much for standard trailers, stored trailers improperly and paid too much to maintain and secure them after they were used.
But despite good intentions, the decision by FEMA to auction more than 100,000 of the trailers through the General Services Administration could pose a threat to public health, the congressman protested.
“The mass disposal of these trailers through public auction is troubling. Although marked with legal disclaimers, it is no secret that these trailers may contain mold, formaldehyde and other potentially hazardous substances. A legal disclaimer will not prevent harm to a child who inhales formaldehyde or mold,” he stated.
Thompson requested that FEMA suspend the auction and sell only small numbers of trailers to government or non-profit organizations that could rehabilitate the trailers to make them safe for long-term habitation.
FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study on Feb. 14, 2008, that determined the temporary housing units contained unhealthy levels of formaldehyde. The CDC concluded that a random sampling of the trailers revealed average levels of formaldehyde of about 77 parts per billion (ppb) in each unit. Exposure to such levels of formaldehyde, intended to keep the trailers clean and preserved, could increase risks of cancer and respiratory sicknesses, CDC warned.