Toxic Trailers and Smallpox Blankets-David Swallow
Deja Vue, Indeed: The Evolving Story of FEMAs Toxic Trailers-Stephanie Schwartz
FEMA'S Toxic Trailers-
Shelley Bluejay Pierce
Reservations To Get FEMA Trailers-Susan Bates


by David Swallow, Lakota Spiritual Leader and a Headman of the Lakota Nation
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 modern days.

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 dont live on the Reservation. They have jobs and live in nice housing in towns in Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, and Wyoming.

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 of this.

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 theyre 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 things.

If these trailers are such good housing, why doesnt 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 being toxic?

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 Canunpa [Sacred Pipe] in Truth. Who walked this land first? The Red Man did. And he should be dealt with in a good way.

We need jobs, not charity. We dont 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 homes.

So this is what I have to say today. Ho hecetu yelo, I have spoken.
David Swallow, Wowitan Yuha Mani
Porcupine, South Dakota The Pine Ridge Reservation


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 be decided.

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 concentrations.

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 limits.

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 Cancer

KXMB News: Bismarck/Mandan, North Dakota: FEMA Trailers Headed to Reservations

Native American Times: Tulsa, Oklahoma: FEMAs 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 Trailers

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 Katrina

The Sun Herald: Gulfport, Mississippi: Toxic Trailers

Washington Post: Washington D.C.: FEMA Taking Hit on Sale of Surplus Trailers dids=1228940021:1228940021&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&fmac=&date=

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.


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 Rita.

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 agencys 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 thats 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 EPAs air sampling of FEMAs 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 ATSDRs 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 Hurricane Katrina.

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 exposure symptoms.

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 familys 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 FEMAs travel trailers led Sen. Johnson to ensure all mobile homes headed to Indian Country are safe for long-term habitation.

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 homes.

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 Oliverez.

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 FEMAs handling of the housing for hurricane survivors will continue.
Thank you Stephanie M. Schwartz ( )
for passing this on to us to share with others.
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