Judge to FEMA: Test the Toxic Trailers
In the news, Judge orders FEMA officials to spell out their plans for testing Katrina trailers (AP). An excerpt about Judge Engelhardt’s order:
"[Judge Engelhardt]'s worried about the health and welfare of the people," added Becnel, who said he represents about 500 individuals living in FEMA trailers in Louisiana and Texas.
Becnel and other lawyers for trailer occupants claim FEMA's delay in testing the trailers is jeopardizing the health of thousands of residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Several of the federal lawsuits filed in Louisiana against FEMA trailer manufacturers were consolidated Oct. 24 and transferred to Englehardt.
FEMA was supposed to start testing on November 2, but postponed and asked for more time. More time to... let displaced people get sick? Yeah, sorry guys, please pardon the folks temporarily living in those trailers if they get a little antsy. I rarely use all caps but I think the time is right: FEMA--TIME IS RUNNING OUT! (That felt good.)
Anyway, as we know, formaldehyde was found in some of FEMA's Katrina trailers after several displaced Katrina survivors became sick. Evidence began to mount that FEMA knew about the presence of this classified carcinogen and source of respiratory disease in the trailers, but nonetheless failed to test or halt distribution of the trailers. So this ruling is, in summary, a great step in the right direction of getting justice for folks who’ve already endured 2 years of hardship after Katrina and Rita, and just want to move on with their lives. And it is a total case-in-point for why civil justice is a critical and necessary component of social justice, in this case through the lenses of economic justice, racial justice, and a human right to adequate shelter.
Without this national attention on FEMA and the pressure of these lawsuits, do you think FEMA would be doing anything? Let’s rephrase that: do we think an agency that responded pitifully to Katrina and Rita in innumerable ways, had to be forced not to terminate housing benefits to evacuees, took forever to give displaced residents temporary homes, had an inkling that the trailers they were giving out so slowly just might have formaldehyde in them, but gave them out anyway, then obstructed people’s access to legal assistance in regards to potential claims against FEMA, began selling Katrina trailers to the public, then requested to postpone testing those trailers because they “needed more time,” (deep breath), would really be doing anything to help were it not for the judge’s gavel and the people’s outrage?
No, my friends, no. This is precisely why the civil justice system is so important-to allow the “little guy” (or girl) to have somewhere to go to be heard and have his or her rights enforced. As a result:
FEMA already has moved hundreds of Gulf Coast families out of trailers and into apartments, hotel rooms or other temporary housing. The agency also has temporarily suspended the sale of its used trailers and says the units won't be used to shelter victims of future disasters until the safety concerns are resolved.
(Gee, ya think? That's the least they could do.)
As for the Katrina survivors who are living in these trailers, what are they asking for? Mansions? The pie in the sky? That FEMA Officials be their lifelong indentured servants? No, not close. Unfortunately that oft-used tort "reform" lore about plaintiffs asking for more than simple justice just doesn’t play out in reality, as this case demonstrates. These people just want their temporary homes tested to make sure they aren’t better off sleeping in sleeping bags in front of city hall. That’s not much to ask, I don't think, do you?
This ruling is a step in the right direction, but an order to FEMA that they must test now, would be most appropriate. Judge Engelhardt hasn't ruled on this request yet, according to the article. We’ll stay updated on that.
Many thanks to CivilRights.Org for the alert on this story.