After the disastrous storm Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and much of the Mississippi river basin in the summer of 2005, millions of people were left stranded and homeless. Many relocated throughout the country to other cities and homes, but for the thousands of people, the only home available would be in the trailers distributed by FEMA, or Federal Emergency Management Agency. These trailers served as temporary shelter for victims of the flooding with ruined or flooded homes, many residents had been living in hotels, in cars, their own partially gutted homes, or with relatives in cramped spaces. However, the majority of the trailers given out to the homeless refugees have been tainted by excessive formaldehyde fumes inside the trailers. Formaldehyde is a possible carcinogen and can cause breathing difficulties, eye irritation, increased sensitivity to allergic reactions, and possible death by overexposure. 1 man was found dead in his trailer due to the fumes. For more information about the situation surrounding the dispute, please go to the WHATsection.

A law firm, Parker, Waichman, & Alonso LLP has volunteered to take the case of any resident who feels that he or she has been harmed by formaldehyde fumes. Anyone who has been harmed by formaldehyde fumes from the toxic trailers is urged to fill out a FORM 95 form downloadable on their website. The law firm cites a Congressional investigation that revealed that FEMA officials had prior knowledge of the formaldehyde issue but attempted to duck out of responsibility. Tests by the Sierra Club, a nonpartisan 3rd party, revealed that on average 30 out of every 32 trailers they tested were contaminated. In late January 2008 FEMA reversed its position of denial when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention urged trailer residents to "get out fast", this made news headlines for several days. For more information about the major actors in this case, please go to the WHOsection.

The law firm Parker et al. is asking FEMA to pay medical costs for all people who suffered illnesses due to exposure to formaldehyde. It is filing a class-action lawsuit in Federal court alleging that FEMA had knowledge of the formaldehyde issue but did nothing about it for months, until an internal investigation revealed its negligence. The media is still reporting on the issue, as the lawsuit is not complete and more information is revealed every day. For more information about the arenas in this case, please go to the GEOGRAPHIC AND GOVERNMENTAL ARENAS section.

The case is still being filed and there are no conclusive answers. News sites such as this offer daily updates about the risks of formaldehyde exposure, changing governmental policies, and updates about legal action. However, with the CDC, Congress, public opinion, and the media all condemning FEMA, the outlook does not look good for FEMA, which may suffer personnel and/or monetary losses. Several trailer manufacturers have been named in the lawsuit as well, but not all of the manufacturers are being sued, because FEMA contracted multiple mobile home and RV companies to make the trailers. The class-action lawsuit requests monetary compensation for formaldehyde-induced medical costs. FEMA's lack of action in the face of knowledge that its trailers were making some people sick will most surely work against it in court. In the meantime, residents are urged to get out of the trailers as soon as they can. For more information on the analysis of the case, please go to the HOWsection.

To view the resources I used for this case study, please go to the REFERENCES section.

To learn how this project relates to other Colby courses, please go to the LINKS TO COLBY COURSESpage.


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