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Toxic Trailers and Smallpox Blankets-David
Deja Vue, Indeed: The Evolving Story of FEMA’s Toxic
FEMA'S Toxic Trailers-Shelley Bluejay Pierce
Reservations To Get FEMA Trailers-Susan
TOXIC TRAILERS AND SMALLPOX BLANKETS
by David Swallow, Lakota Spiritual Leader and a Headman of the Lakota
Edited by Stephanie M. Schwartz © July 16, 2007 Porcupine, South Dakota
My name is David Swallow. I live near the community of Porcupine on the
Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I want to speak today. I want to
speak out against ethnic cleansing, genocide, and extermination in these
Today, due to the terrible economic situation on the Pine Ridge
Reservation, everyone knows that many poor people need housing. Horrible
poverty is everywhere here. Reports say unemployment on Pine Ridge is
around 85% or worse.
Many of my people are sick. I am told that the life expectancy here on
Pine Ridge is between 48-52 years old. By this, I am one who has already
lived past when they thought I would die.
There are some people who live good lives. BIA workers and Federal and
State Government workers don’t live on the Reservation. They have jobs
and live in nice housing in towns in Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado,
Others live good lives, too. Tribal Council members have jobs so they
can afford decent housing. They live good.
But all these people are working together to bring toxic, contaminated
FEMA trailers left over from Hurricane Katrina to the poorest people of
Pine Ridge. They will be creating an ethnic cleansing like in the 1800s
when the Government sent blankets to the reservations which had smallpox
infection in them.
This new trailer housing creates disease. That is why the Government
gives them away to Indians. The Government wants the oil, uranium, and
rich minerals that might be on our land but the Indians are in the way
That is the same reason the BIA and the Tribal Council started up the
Land Consolidation Act of 2000, to buy up all the Reservation land. With
no jobs, little food, and much homelessness, they put us in a position
where we have to sell our land.
Now they’re trying to bring in trailer houses infested with toxic
chemicals. These chemicals get into the air and make people very sick,
especially the children, elders, mothers, and people already with health
problems. The contamination causes cancer, heart diseases, lung
diseases, rashes, mental problems, breathing problems, many horrible
If these trailers are such good housing, why doesn’t the mainstream
people want to buy them? Why did their own inspectors warn them about
the danger from the high levels of the chemicals? Why are the people
already living in them suing the trailer makers and FEMA because of
getting sick from the toxic poisons? Why will no one listen when many
major mainstream news reports have talked about these FEMA trailers
Every time we deal with the Government, they give us a deal like this.
This is no good way.
I want to say, we are not “Indians.” We are Lakota. And we Traditional
Lakota carry the Red Nation C’anunpa [Sacred Pipe] in Truth. Who walked
this land first? The Red Man did. And he should be dealt with in a good
We need jobs, not charity. We don’t need contaminated hand-outs. We need
lots and lots of jobs. We need good economic-development projects and
programs on the Reservation. If we had jobs, we could build our own
homes. With jobs, we would be able to solve many of our problems.
If anyone really cares about conditions on the Reservation, they should
look to these things. They should not try to kill us with poisoned
So this is what I have to say today. Ho h’ecetu yelo, I have spoken.
David Swallow, Wowitan Yuha Mani
Porcupine, South Dakota – The Pine Ridge Reservation
DEJA VUE, INDEED: THE EVOLVING STORY OF FEMA’S
by Stephanie M. Schwartz, Freelance Writer - Member, Native American
Journalists Association (NAJA)
© July 16, 2007 Firestone, Colorado Stephanie M. Schwartz
In June of 2007, Senator Tim Johnson, FEMA, Congress, and the BIA
arranged for 2,000 FEMA trailers to be made available to the Native
American reservations in dire need of housing. These trailers are part
of the 8,000+ excess, unused FEMA trailers constructed for the victims
of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Exactly which American Indian
reservations and how many units each reservation will get remains yet to
The tribes will be required to pay transportation costs as well as the
costs to prepare the lots, set the trailers up, and to winterize them.
However, clearly this appeared to be a significant help towards the
critical need of about
90,000 American Indian families in critical in need of adequate housing
(as detailed in a 2003 study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).
According to public statements, Senator Johnson specifically envisioned
many of these trailers going to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South
Dakota, a place whose poverty-stricken conditions are likened to third
world countries. The Senator and the BIA have been working closely with
John Steele, Paul Iron Cloud, and the Tribal Council from Pine Ridge to
make it all happen.
It seemed a surprisingly ideal solution, one which many people applauded
at first as a huge humanitarian and logical move by the Federal
Government. Ideal, that is, until one starts to investigate the history
of these mobile homes and learns of an astonishing toxicity issue with
the vast majority of the units.
Said to be fully-furnished, three bedroom units, these trailers were
built during a construction frenzy created by FEMA's unprepared but
immediate need to house Hurricane Katrina survivors. A report from the
Sun Herald News in Mississippi in May of 2006 details the picture of
this manufacturing frenzy.... untrained workers, a dearth of suitable
materials, using materials possibly made outside the U.S. which
contained higher levels of chemicals than normally allowed, and low
quality control on hastily-created assembly lines.
Chemicals… therein lies the problem. The Government's public
announcements about these trailers fail to mention the history of toxic
contamination from formaldehyde which has been proven to exist in the
FEMA trailers and mobile homes constructed for the victims of Katrina.
Formaldehyde is a chemical which emits gasses which the EPA considers to
be highly toxic and carcinogenic (known to cause lung, nose, and throat
cancer) but which is not regulated for trailer manufacturing in this
country. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
exposure to formaldehyde toxins can create irritated eyes, breathing
problems, headaches, asthma attacks, coughing, congestive heart disease,
nausea, depression, memory-impairment, skin rashes, respiratory problems
and even can lead to cancer. To compound the problem, high temperatures
or high humidity increase the toxin levels.
Worse, for people who already are compromised with respiratory health
issues, and for infants, children, nursing mothers, and elders, exposure
can prove disastrous and even more deadly.
Formaldehyde is used in cheap building materials like particle board,
plywood, curtains, molded plastics, counter tops, glue, carpet,
insulation, and wallpaper. While normal trailers and mobile homes also
contain these toxins, the FEMA trailers and mobile homes, hurriedly
built as bare-bones cheap models, seem to contain significantly higher
In 2006, the Sierra Club tested FEMA trailers in Louisiana, Mississippi,
and Alabama and found 83-94% of them to contain formaldehyde levels far
above EPA and OSHA recommended workplace limits of 0.10 parts per
million. Other testing has shown comparable results. Varying reports
state that the gas levels emitted by the formaldehyde in the
contaminated trailers ranged from 3 to 1,000 times the acceptable EPA
Originally, FEMA's response to hundreds of complaints from Katrina
victims was that the toxic vapors go away with adequate ventilation
after about six months. However, continued testing has proven that not
to be the case.
Additionally, according to a report given by journalist Dan Rather on
HD-TV, information has come to light that FEMA was informed of the high
toxicity by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) just
two months after Katrina hit, in October 2005, but chose to ignore the
information. Testing to ensure employee safety, OSHA found new units in
four county FEMA staging areas to have toxicity levels 20 times above
government standards just in the air outside the trailers.
Dan Rather further related his interview with a former FEMA employee who
clearly indicated that not only was FEMA aware of the toxic problems but
chose to ignore them. Moreover, the employee stated that FEMA advised
their employees to remain silent about the test results.
In March of 2007, the Washington Post News reported FEMA's woes in
trying to sell their excess trailers and mobile homes. Selling the units
at 40 cents on the dollar seemed like simple poor financial management
on the part of FEMA in this report.
However, in light of the contamination issues, it may have turned out to
be the best financial move FEMA could have made.
In May, 2007, both ABC News and CBS News reported that Louisiana Dem.
Senator Mary Landrieu and Louisiana Rep. Congressman Bobby Jindal have
each independently called for hearings to address the FEMA trailer
toxicity issues and FEMA's poor response as well as to what it knew, how
much it knew, and when.
In June, 2007, the Louisiana Advocate News reported that a class-action
lawsuit had been filed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana Federal Court which
claims that "hundreds of thousands" of people in Louisiana, Mississippi,
and Alabama may have been exposed to dangerously high concentrations of
carcinogenic formaldehyde fumes with no recourse or viable solution
provided by FEMA.
According to a report in the Washington Post on July 13, 2007, Desiree
Collins of Louisiana filed the original lawsuit regarding the
contamination of the FEMA trailers. She allowed her lawsuit to become a
class-action lawsuit for all Katrina survivors who are victims of the
toxic exposure. On July 2, 2007, the 47 year old wife and mother died of
lung cancer which was diagnosed only a week before she died. Her husband
and children will continue the court case.
Obviously, it seems tragic enough that well over 75-85,000 families,
victims of Hurricane Katrina, still have to remain trapped into living
in their FEMA units two years after the fact, a home most likely
contaminated and dangerous. That, in itself, defies anyone's definition
of humanitarian aid.
Yet since June of 2007, with South Dakota Dem. Senator Tim Johnson
leading Congress into approval, tribal councils are working hand in hand
with the Federal BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to bring 2,000 of these
very same trailers to the reservations of South Dakota as well as to
other reservations. Again, all under the guise of humanitarian aid.
Deja vue, indeed. We have been here before. The seeming-correlation of
the distribution of toxic trailers to the reservations in 2007 and the
government dispersing smallpox-infested blankets to the reservations in
the 1800s is not so far-fetched at all. It just leaves one wondering…..
For More Information:
Website: Toxic Trailers
Informational Website Resource Dedicated to Katrina Victims Forced to
Live in Contaminated Trailers
U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services: ATSDR, Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry:
Medical Management guidelines for Formaldehyde (HCHO)
Dan Rather Reports: 2007 Episode 216: Toxic Trailers
ABC News: Congressman Wants FEMA Trailers Hearings
CBS News: Congress Acts on FEMA Trailer Probe
KRISTV: Corpus Christi, Texas: FEMA Trailer Plaintiff Dies of Lung
KXMB News: Bismarck/Mandan, North Dakota: FEMA Trailers Headed to
Native American Times: Tulsa, Oklahoma: FEMA’s Potentially Toxic
Trailers Headed for Indian Reservations
Rapid City Journal: Rapid City, South Dakota: Unused FEMA Trailers
Headed to Reservations Nationwide
Sierra Club: Mardi Gras Celebrations Overshadowed by Toxic Trailers
Sierra Club: Delta Louisiana Chapter:
Testing by Sierra Club Shows Abnormal Levels of Formaldehyde in FEMA
Sierra Club: Mississippi Chapter: Fact Sheet: Toxic Trailers?
The Advocate and WBRZ News: Baton Rouge, Louisiana: New Orleans Woman
Suing Mobile Home Vendor
The Anniston Star: Anniston, Alabama: The Alabama Legacy of Hurricane
The Sun Herald: Gulfport, Mississippi: Toxic Trailers
Washington Post: Washington D.C.: FEMA Taking Hit on Sale of Surplus
Washington Post: Washington D.C.: FEMA Trailer Plaintiff Dies of Cancer
Stephanie M. Schwartz can be reached at
To view this and other Schwartz articles, visit
This article may be reprinted, reproduced, and/or re-distributed
unedited with proper attribution and sourcing for non-profit,
educational, news, or archival purposes.
FEMA'S TOXIC TRAILERS
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hammers FEMA
Over Safety of Hurricane Housing Units
Saturday, 21 July 2007
by Shelley Bluejay Pierce
Pacific Free Press
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator, David
Paulison, was grilled by members of the House Committee on Oversight and
Government Reform on Thursday, July 19, 2007. During the hearing,
lawmakers from both parties accused the FEMA of ignoring the problem of
high levels of formaldehyde in the housing units FEMA provided to
hurricane survivors in the Gulf regions after hurricanes Katrina and
Subpoenaed records revealed that FEMA lawyers warned officials of
potential liability problems if tests suggested government negligence. A
series of e-mails obtained from FEMA were read during the hearing that
detailed the agency's lawyers recommendations to FEMA employees stating,
"…advised that we do not do testing, which would imply FEMA's ownership
of this issue."
Another FEMA attorney on June 15, 2006 wrote, "Do not initiate any
testing until we give the OK. Once you get the results ... the clock is
running on our duty to respond to them."
Units planned to house Native Americans under question
WASHINGTON DC - Native American Times released a story on June 28, 2007,
revealing that FEMA intended to sell the mobile homes and trailers in
surplus to the general public and to Native Americans who desperately
need housing on reservations.
Scientific expert, Mary DeVany, stated clearly at the onset of the
hearing, “FEMA needs to test and assure all units have safe formaldehyde
indoor air concentrations immediately.” She continued, “Also, these
trailers must not be sold or donated to Native Americans or others
without this testing being done to assure safe air quality.”
The chairman of the oversight committee, Representative Henry A. Waxman,
(Dem/California) said 5,000 pages of documents released Thursday
revealed a battle between the FEMA field staff and officials at the
agency’s headquarters. Waxman chastised Director Paulison at the hearing
for failing to provide requested documentation for over a year.
“They wanted to ignore the problem,” Rep. Waxman said, referring to
headquarters officials. “What we have is indifference to the suffering
of people who are already suffering because of Hurricane Katrina, and
this is from an agency that’s supposed to serve the public.”
Mary DeVany, an occupational health and safety engineer served as an
advisor to the Sierra Club that performed formaldehyde testing of the
housing units in question.
Written testimony provided to the committee by Mary DeVany provided more
insight into the history of the FEMA testing programs for the trailers.
DeVany explained that in July 2006, FEMA developed and implemented an
air monitoring and sampling plan to establish and verify methods to
reduce the presence of formaldehyde fumes in travel trailers. The
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted the sampling and then
the data was analyzed by the ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Register), which is affiliated with the Centers for Disease
Control, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
DeVany, further wrote that the results of this study showed high levels
of formaldehyde in nearly all of the trailers, whether they were
continuously ventilated or were kept cool through air conditioning.
Without giving any explanation, although the ATSDR has an exposure limit
of 0.008 ppm for exposures of 365 or more days, rather than use this
limit when analyzing EPA’s air sampling of FEMA’s trailers, the ATSDR
arbitrarily chose a limit of 0.3 ppm as their “level of concern” and
applied this high level to the results as if it were a safe and
applicable exposure limit.
DeVany explained to the committee, “This level is nearly 400 times the
ATSDR’s limit for people exposed more than 365 days, as the hurricane
victims living in travel trailers are, and resulted in a bizarre skewing
of the sampling results interpretation. However, even applying this
‘level of concern,’ the average sampling results were even higher than
this very elevated level. This misapplication and skewing of scientific
results is at best unethical and grossly misrepresents and attempt to
minimize the adverse health effects being experienced by thousands of
travel trailer residents.”
Details revealed in the hearing showed that FEMA did test one trailer
that was occupied by a pregnant woman and her 4-month-old child. The
results showed formaldehyde levels 75 times higher than the maximum
recommended for workplace exposure by the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health.
One of the people testifying before the Oversight Committee was Lindsay
Huckabee who explained the events she and her family endured while
living in one of the single-wide mobile homes provided by FEMA following
“We were told that we qualified for a single-wide mobile home because of
our family size. If we cleared a site, provided our own septic, water
and power to the site, they would deliver a home. We met all of the
requirements and were ready for the trailer by mid-November. On December
14, 2005, our new home was delivered and set up. We had four children
and another due at the end of February.”
Upon moving into the mobile home, the Huckabee family was plagued with
illness. Family members suffered burning eyes, nosebleeds, coughs and
respiratory difficulties. Lindsay Huckabee began having migraine
headaches and later went into pre-term labor, ending with a premature
birth of her newborn. When the infant left the hospital and was taken
into the mobile home, he too began suffering from typical formaldehyde
“FEMA does not run air quality tests on the homes they provide; my air
quality test was done at the expense of the Sierra Club. I have heard
there is a pamphlet that was given to people by FEMA about formaldehyde,
but I never received one, not even with the second mobile home they
later delivered to us. If it had not been for my family’s medical
problems, I would not have known about the formaldehyde problem. I am
scared to think of how many other families are being exposed to high
levels of formaldehyde and will have medical problems in the future,”
explained Huckabee to the committee.
Lindsay Huckabee and her family received two different mobile homes,
each being 60 x 14 feet, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, furnished units. The first
mobile home was made in 2005 by Fleetwood Homes and the second unit was
also made in 2005 but manufactured by Destiny Homes. The first mobile
home was replaced by FEMA after testing revealed that the formaldehyde
levels were high. The second home that the family continues to live in
also has high levels of formaldehyde.
Another hurricane survivor, Paul Stewart, a former Army Airborne
infantry officer and police officer from Bay St. Louis, Miss., explained
to the oversight committee members that he engaged in a four-month
battle to convince FEMA that his trailer was a health hazard. He said
the agency made him feel like a "charity case."
"We lost a great deal," he told the committee, " not the least of which
was our faith in government."
U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) sent a letter directly to FEMA Director,
R. David Paulison, to address concerns raised by tribal members in South
Dakota regarding the recent news reports of high formaldehyde levels in
surplus units that Johnson had requested for use in Indian Country.
Questions about formaldehyde levels in FEMA’s travel trailers led Sen.
Johnson to ensure all mobile homes headed to Indian Country are safe for
“Every step possible must be taken to ensure that only safe and reliable
housing is ever distributed to Indian Country. As FEMA works with the
Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control, and
Department of Health and Human Services to improve conditions in travel
trailers, similar efforts must to be taken to ensure no related threats
arise in tribal mobile homes,” Johnson wrote to Paulison.
In March 2006, Johnson began his efforts to put the excess mobile homes
to good use by suggesting they be sent to Indian Country to help house
families who are homeless or under-housed. Last fall, Johnson pushed a
provision in the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act that gave
FEMA the ability to work with other government agencies to distribute
“These problems were unforeseeable when I originally requested the homes
for Indian Country, however it is now a priority that must be addressed
to ensure a positive outcome for Indian Country,” Johnson said.
Dagny E. Olivares, Health Communications Specialist for the National
Center for Environmental Health/ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Prevention at the CDC told Native American Times that their agency has
held meetings prior to the Oversight Hearing yesterday addressing the
need for testing of the emergency housing used by FEMA.
“We are working on the inter-agency agreement that examines the
objectives of the study and the methodologies needed for testing the
FEMA housing units for all indoor air quality. This agreement goes all
the way up to the department level at the CDC, FEMA, HHS and Homeland
Security. We are moving very quickly to finalize this agreement and will
make that final plan available to the public so that they will know
exactly how our agencies are moving forward with this issue,” explained
“When FEMA took on the role of landlord for the thousands of people,
they took on the responsibility to provide a safe, fit home for these
people. This temporary housing should have given people time to get on
their feet again, and even save some money for a permanent home. Instead
we are spending so much on medical bills and prescriptions, we are
actually moving backwards,” Lindsey Huckabee concluded in her testimony
before the committee.
As many as 120,000 families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita
lived in the suspect trailers with hundreds having complained of ill
effects. Further hearings and investigations into FEMA’s handling of the
housing for hurricane survivors will continue.
Stephanie M. Schwartz (
for passing this on to us to share with others.
OUR CHILDREN ARE DYING
A DAY OF HOPE ON THE PINE
TOXIC TRAILERS AND SMALLPOX
LAKOTA LEADER, DAVID SWALLOW, SPEAKS OUT
ON SUNDANCE: A WARNING FOR THIS SUMMER
DAVID SWALLOW BLESSES
PENNSYLVANIA WHITE BUFFALO CALF
LAKOTA SPIRITUAL LEADER ISSUES
CALL TO SACRED PIPE CARRIERS & TO HUMANITY
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