FEMA's Trailers: The Cheapest, The Most Toxic

07/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The penultimate, if not the ultimate, shoe dropped in the FEMA trailer scandal in New Orleans this week, with the publication of a report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that pinpointed the reasons why so many New Orleanians inhaled such a high level of formaldehyde fumes for so long:

Berkeley researchers said they found "exceptionally large emissions of formaldehyde" in units tested and traced the chemical's presence to extensive use of cheap, light plywood and particleboard for walls, flooring and cabinet surfaces. At the same time, trailers "are not outfitted for adequate ventilation and are tighter than would be desired for housing with such small volume," they said.

The authors blamed "manufacturers' practices and weak federal regulation".

So, to review, the federal government, under both parties, allowed the Corps of Engineers to build a "system" of levees and floodwalls that one federal judge has now said the Corps knew was inadequate. Then, after FEMA's disaster response was notoriously slow and unresponsive, survivors were crammed into toxic cans by the same agency, which then slow-walked the Centers for Disease Control in its attempt to measure the indoor air in the trailers. All the while, the Feds knowingly allowed the cheapest materials to be used in an environment allowing for the least effective ventilation.

Heck of a job. Let the lawsuits begin.