[StBernard] Scientist: CDC Bosses Ignored Warning
westley at da-parish.com
Thu Apr 3 09:09:37 EDT 2008
Scientist: CDC Bosses Ignored Warning
Scientist Says CDC Bosses Ignored Pleas to Warn Residents in FEMA Trailers
By BEN EVANS
The Associated Press
A federal scientist said Tuesday his bosses ignored pleas to alert Gulf
Coast hurricane victims earlier about severe health risks from formaldehyde
in government-issued trailers and once told him not to write e-mails about
Christopher De Rosa, who until recently was one of the government's top
toxicologists, told a congressional panel that he repeatedly raised concerns
early last year that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was not
adequately informing the public of the hazard, even as symptoms of dangerous
exposure were surfacing.
As a result, tens of thousands of families displaced by hurricanes Katrina
and Rita remained in the trailers without full knowledge of the risks, he
"I stated that such clinical signs were a 'harbinger of a pending public
health catastrophe,'" De Rosa said in written testimony, quoting one series
of e-mails he wrote to superiors last summer. "I stressed the importance of
alerting the trailer residents to the potential reproductive, developmental
and carcinogenic effects ... (but) the only response I received was that
such matters should not be discussed in e-mails since they might be
De Rosa's comments came Tuesday at a House Science and Technology
subcommittee hearing on how the CDC and its sister agencies handled
complaints about trailers issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Committee Democrats accuse FEMA of manipulating scientific research to
downplay the dangers. They say the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances
and Disease Registry, where De Rosa worked, went along with the effort.
"Your agency failed to protect public health," said Nick Lampson, D-Texas.
When complaints of possible formaldehyde poisoning surfaced, FEMA officials
insisted in early 2006 that the trailers were safe. But after coming under
increasing pressure, FEMA enlisted the CDC's help to test them.
Formaldehyde, well known as a preservative and embalming fluid, is commonly
used in building materials. Prolonged exposure can lead to breathing
problems and is also believed to cause cancer.
The CDC initially said in February 2007 that, with proper ventilation,
formaldehyde levels were safe in the short-term. FEMA immediately began
citing the advisory as evidence that the trailers were safe.
De Rosa said he protested immediately that the CDC should more aggressively
address the matter and that the advisory didn't include broader warnings
about longer-term health risks, including for cancer.
But it wasn't until February 2008 that the CDC released preliminary results
from additional testing showing that FEMA trailers and mobile homes had
formaldehyde levels that were, on average, about five times higher than in
most modern homes.
The CDC urged people to move as quickly as possible, prompting FEMA to say
it would rush to find new housing for some 35,000 families still living in
As they have done previously, De Rosa's bosses at the toxic substances
agency, director Howard Frumkin and deputy director Thomas Sinks,
acknowledged that the agency took too long to address the formaldehyde
hazard, in part because little is known about its risks.
But they said there was never any effort to silence De Rosa or mislead the
"I regret that our initial work on formaldehyde in trailers did not meet our
own expectations," Frumkin said. "In some respects, we could and should have
The agency is reviewing its procedures, he said, and is planning a five-year
study of children who lived in the trailers in Alabama, Louisiana,
Mississippi and Texas.
Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller, D-N.C., called De Rosa a whistleblower,
noting that the nearly 30-year employee was recently removed from his job
and assigned to another division.
Frumkin said De Rosa, who also has gained attention as the author of a
controversial study on pollution around the Great Lakes, was transferred for
internal personnel reasons, not as a result of his work on the trailers.
Meanwhile, test results obtained by The Associated Press Tuesday showed that
some of the thousands of mobile homes being stored for possible use by
future disaster victims have formaldehyde levels rivaling those used after
the 2005 hurricanes.
Testing conducted by FEMA show that three of 32 mobile homes tested for use
in Arkansas had levels high enough to put possible residents at an increased
risk of cancer and respiratory illnesses. More than half the homes tested
had levels higher than the average.
FEMA had a contractor test some of the units to see if they were suitable
for storm victims in the region, which was hit by deadly tornadoes on Feb.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to
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