(Cough, Cough) Thanks, FEMA!

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People are still living in FEMA trailers left after Hurricane Katrina, the trailers are basically poisoned, and the DHS has no idea to do with the poor schlubs coughing themselves silly from all the chemicals.

Katrina washed away Joe Fineran's home in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and he has lived in two travel trailers since December 2005. The first tested at 0.38 ppm of formaldehyde—nearly four times the higher EPA limit and 48 times the .008 ppm minimal-risk standard. The second tested slightly better, at 0.18 ppm. In both trailers, however, Fineran, 35, and his fiancŽe, Michelle, have suffered burning eyes, coughing and sinus attacks. "Even my dog is sick," says Fineran. "His nose is running all the time, his eyes are running."

Fineran asked FEMA to relocate him. Per the latest directive, FEMA has offered him a mobile home or a Katrina Kottage. Fineran would gladly take either one—but he has been refused permits at every turn. FEMA won't approve a Katrina Kottage unless the soil on his coastal property passes stability tests. He's paying for soil tests, but so far the results are inconclusive. He can put a mobile home on his property if he can get a permit for it from the City of Bay St. Louis—but the city has turned him down, saying it will only grant a permit if FEMA uses its federal authority to secure it.

After explaining the permit problem to a FEMA official last week and asking for help securing the mobile home permit, the FEMA staff member refused to intervene. "I said to her, 'Lady. I'm dying in this damn trailer.' And she says, 'Well, if you want to give up and die, go ahead.' I won't tell you what I said next," Fineran laughs.

Amanda Spake's whole piece is worth a read, especially the bits about the tiny FEMA database of rental units for the trailer-bound to move out into. Has anyone set up a private charity or non-profit tasked with placing Katrina victims in new homes? If not, why not?

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  1. See what evil limited government brings? Damn Bush and his ultra-limited government!!!!

  2. the claims of chemical poisoning are… interesting. one can’t say definitively that they’re contrived, but they have every appearance of being so. the photo is a perfect cap. where’s the puppy?

  3. How is this not on the news? This is such a bigger crisis than Iran/Iraq/Hillary’s pantsuits. We’re killing OUR OWN CITIZENS with red tape.

    ‘Well, if you want to give up and die, go ahead.’ It’s for people like this that I refuse to actively disbelieve in an afterlife.

  4. If there’s no private charity or non-profit set up to help people, the answer is obvious as to why: the government is taking care of it. That’s where all my tax dollars go, right?

  5. FEMA aside, this is just one more example of why we need to get rid of for-your-own-good laws like “YOU are not allowed to build YOUR home on YOUR property unless I decide it’s safe enough. Better to remain homeless than live in a home I consider subpar.”

  6. Has anyone set up a private charity or non-profit tasked with placing Katrina victims in new homes?

    The local Habitat for Humanity is doing what they can.

  7. A friend just returned to LA from the MS coast after building homes for locals. It was through private charity.

  8. I work for an environmental consulting firm and we do indoor air quality testing, including testing for formaldehyde. When you take an air sample of formaldehyde, you analyze it with NIOSH method 2016.

    It is pretty clear that FEMA has been housing people in trailers where formaldehyde levels are above the OSHA Recommended Exposure Limit for 8 hour work shifts, which is 0.016 PPM with a cieling of 0.1 PPM. That exposure level is a TWA, or Time-Weighted Average.

    However, the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) is 0.75 ppm over an eight hour TWA. This applies to worker exposure on an 8 hour shift. This is probably the legally actionable part even though the trailer readings are below the PEL, because people live in these trailers for more than 8 hours a day. FEMA shitbag beancounters probably think they can get around this since levels were reported at 0.38 ppm, technically below OSHA requirements for workers.

    I don’t really understand what FEMA is thinking here. If a private home developer temporarily housed clients in trailers with these levels of formaldehyde, they would be sued for every last penny they had.

  9. “I don’t really understand what FEMA is thinking here.”

    that unless the whole lot of them end up on youtube fucking dogs and bunnies and drinking the blood of children, that there are no real-world consequences to their actions? (for them i mean)

  10. See what evil limited government brings? Damn Bush and his ultra-limited government!!!!

    You know what they say, conservatives tell us that government can’t work and then they get elected and prove it.

  11. Has anyone set up a private charity or non-profit tasked with placing Katrina victims in new homes? If not, why not?

    Maybe because it wouldn’t do any good? The guy in the story already has a piece of property, and apparently a mobile home to put on it, but he isn’t allowed to because the government hasn’t deigned to give him permission to live on his own land. What makes you think the government would be any more forthcoming about issuing permits to charities rather than property owners?

  12. FEMA aside, this is just one more example of why we need to get rid of for-your-own-good laws like “YOU are not allowed to build YOUR home on YOUR property unless I decide it’s safe enough. Better to remain homeless than live in a home I consider subpar.”

    That seems like a bit of a stretch. The fact that the system is not perfect doesn’t mean that it’s not in our society’s best interests to make sure that buildings meet basic safety codes.

  13. Getting rid of FEMA would be a good thing I think, but even before that – why not housing vouchers and let folks take the funds and purchase trailers from the private sector directly? As the earlier commenter noted, if a private firm sold trailers like this, they’d be sued for eternity (which is why they wouldn’t do it in the first place). The Stafford Act exempts government employees from individual liability for what they do in crises. And try suing FEMA…

    Plus, we all know how good the gov’t is at purchasing things at competitive prices. Vouchers would have also got FEMA out of the business of having petty tyrannical power over people’s lives (not to mention killing them…) as documented in Spake’s piece.

  14. Interestingly, among the best of the private charities is the Lutheran church. Many friends and families had their homes cleaned out, sheetrock hauled out, and other such labor-intensive jobs by roving gangs of cheerful Lutheran teens and young adults.

    As to those Katrina Cottages, my father-in-law is involved with the installation of those, and he says they are very nice. The biggest problem is the federal and state rules about where you can put the things, and the level of construction needed to prevent the buildings from becoming projectiles during the next hurricane.

  15. Jennifer:

    Yes, several groups are down in NO building and rebuilding homes. Habitat for one, Common Ground for another, plus any number of religious and other charities. The problem is that the number of folks who need housing is huge.

    The instability and uncertainty of the political environment has made it very difficult for the private sector to play a stronger role as firms cannot be certain what they will or will not be allowed to do, not to mention residents.

    Folks might find this piece of interest along these lines.

  16. That seems like a bit of a stretch. The fact that the system is not perfect doesn’t mean that it’s not in our society’s best interests to make sure that buildings meet basic safety codes.

    Of course…at the expense of the individual.

  17. “Has anyone set up a private charity or non-profit tasked with placing Katrina victims in new homes? If not, why not?’

    Indeed, Dave. What are you waiting for?

  18. That seems like a bit of a stretch. The fact that the system is not perfect doesn’t mean that it’s not in our society’s best interests to make sure that buildings meet basic safety codes.

    Even a libertarian can argue that individuals should be protected from fraud, where a builder says the house meets certain standards yet it doesn’t. But society does not have a right to dictate the minimum required standards for all people.

    If poor people decide that it is better to live in a house of marginal quality rather that live on the street or in a FEMA-provided trailer, then the government should stay out of the way.

  19. ‘Well, if you want to give up and die, go ahead.’

    All too common an attitude by Government employees. Dont ask us to actually get anything done. We’re not beholden to you. We are beholden to the bureaucracy. You are just a data point.

  20. For the money FEMA is spending, it could probably buy up all those sub-prime foreclosed houses sitting (or soon to be sitting) on the market.

  21. You are just a data point.… besides which, it’s time for lunch. You can just stand there behind the rope line, sir, I’ll be back in an hour and half.

    *slams window*

  22. Can he sue FEMA? Sounds like the government is endangering his health.

  23. According to the local government officials who wrote the zoning codes for nearby towns, homelessness is far preferable to living in a house of less than 2,500 square feet. Homelessness is also better than living in a prefabricated home of any size.

  24. But society does not have a right to dictate the minimum required standards for all people.

    You can argue all day about who has what right, but pragmatically having some minimum building safety code works out better than not having one. Plus, people would rather the government provide some level of assurance that buildings are safe rather than having to figure it out for themselves.

  25. Can he sue FEMA?

    Sovereign Immunity is a bitch.

  26. pragmatically having some minimum building safety code works out better than not having one

    But don’t take Dan’s word for it! Instead, ask Joe Fineran how wonderfully protected he is by those minimum safety codes.

  27. But don’t take Dan’s word for it! Instead, ask Joe Fineran how wonderfully protected he is by those minimum safety codes.

    Tell ya what, find some countries where people can just build anything anywhere and compare those places with countries like ours that have building codes. Let me know how much better they are.

  28. Why are people still in FEMA trailers after 2 years?

    Move. Get a fcking job.

    I don’t give a rat’s ass about formaldehyde in these trailers.

  29. Tell ya what, find some countries where people can just build anything anywhere and compare those places with countries like ours that have building codes. Let me know how much better they are.

    Better yet, Dan, explain how and why Joe Fineran is helped by the codes which say he can’t put a home ON HIS OWN PROPERTY. Seriously: explain to us here why he’s safer living in a polluted trailer. Explain why he should be grateful the government won’t let him put a home on his property.

  30. to those about to troll, we salute you.

    (rock)

  31. Why are people still in FEMA trailers after 2 years?

    In at least one man’s case, it’s because the government won’t allow him put a home on his property. Dan can explain why this is for the man’s own benefit.

  32. Jennifer’s excellent points notwithstanding, who, in their right mind, would continue to live in a trailer that is poisoning their family?

    Oh, please, Dear FEMA, I mean Dear God, please give me another free trailer to live in. Hold the formaldehyde.

  33. You know what they say, conservatives tell us that government can’t work and then they get elected and prove it.

    If the proper functioning of socialism hinges on the need to have a specific party in charge, then socialism is flawed. In a democracy, power tends to go back and forth between different parties… eventually, a party you don’t like WILL be elected, and will ‘mess up’ your glorious government program.

    Getting rid of FEMA would be a good thing I think, but even before that – why not housing vouchers and let folks take the funds and purchase trailers from the private sector directly?

    Duh? Do you really need to ask that question? Because the companies that sold those trailers to FEMA paid a whole lot of money to lobbiests and made lots of donations to politians to get the contracts for those trailers.

    If the government doesn’t buy the trailers, how can politians skim money off of it?

    You can argue all day about who has what right, but pragmatically having some minimum building safety code works out better than not having one.

    In this case, the person *IS* building to safety code. The trouble is, he can’t get a local building permit without FEMA approval first… and he can’t get FEMA approval without a local building permit. A catch 22.

    Tell ya what, find some countries where people can just build anything anywhere and compare those places with countries like ours that have building codes. Let me know how much better they are.

    How well traveled are you? In those places without building codes, high end buildings tend to be perfectly safe. People don’t build office buildings, or expensive hotels without insurance, and insurance companies tend to have stricter codes than most government agencies. The low end buildings for the poor tend to be unsafe, because of the lack of resources to build a safe building.

    However, the real problem is poverty. If you instituted strict building codes, the people in the shanty towns still aren’t going to be able to build buildings to code. They simply can’t afford it. Strictly enforcing building codes means that they will be homeless and jobless, not that they will suddenly be living in a comfortable and safe enviornment.

    Unsafe buildings is a problem of poverty and cost, not a problem of a lack of regulation.

  34. re: trolling, dhex, thanx for the encouragement.

    these are not great levels for chronic exposure, but the symptoms described seemed rather hysterical. this isn’t instant-death-level, this is “after ten years, you might show some symptoms” level, enough to legislate (boo!) but john-edwards-quality evidence of short-term problems.

    anyone think about opening a window?

  35. You can argue all day about who has what right, but pragmatically having some minimum building safety code works out better than not having one. Plus, people would rather the government provide some level of assurance that buildings are safe rather than having to figure it out for themselves.

    Great Dan, but today’s building codes are not limited to safety codes. They stray far and wide from the minimum set of requirements to ensure that the occupant can safely live in a building. Today’s building codes regularly interfere with providing temporary shelter to get people off the streets and into safer situations than they are now.

    Besides, building safety issues can be dealt with like any other liability issue. If you build a house and someone gets hurts, you lose everything and in egregious cases you go to jail.

  36. By the way, I would much rather pay a private, for-profit organization to inspect my house than an untouchable, government bureaucracy. I trust someone I can fire and sue far more than a nameless, faceless bureaucrat with a guarenteed job and pension.

    Being untouchable is supposed to make them immune to outside pressure, but given the nature of mankind, it just makes them tyrants.

  37. I think it should be possible to seperate out zoning laws and other regulations of that sort that dictate the style or height or whatever of the building from building codes that are there to make sure the building doesn’t fall down. I’m against the first and very strongly for the second.

  38. Better yet, Dan, explain how and why Joe Fineran is helped by the codes which say he can’t put a home ON HIS OWN PROPERTY. Seriously: explain to us here why he’s safer living in a polluted trailer. Explain why he should be grateful the government won’t let him put a home on his property.

    First off, I don’t see anything in the story to indicate that Fineran can’t build a home on his own property. It’s just that FEMA is not willing to give him one without first knowing that it won’t wash away – isn’t that the reason he’s in this mess in the first place (his house was inadequately built on unsafe land)?

    Still, I’ll admit that you might have a point if you were saying that this situation is an example of where standards should be relaxed to deal with emergency situations.

    But I don’t think you have a point when you say this example illustrates that we should get rid of building codes altogether. Like I said, please let me know if there are any modern societies that haven’t found them to be necessary.

  39. Edna, actually the formaldehyde smell in the trailers has another name that we all love. It’s the smell of a NEW CAR. It dissipates over a few weeks. And, yes, opening the windows helps. 🙂

  40. Building codes don’t always ensure that buildings don’t fall down. See: Mexico City Earthquake where all the government buildings fell down and all the privately owned buildings didn’t.

  41. Tell ya what, find some countries where people can just build anything anywhere and compare those places with countries like ours that have building codes. Let me know how much better they are.

    Been to Moscow many times. Every building constructed before the fall of the soviet union is unsafe.

    Government oversite is not a panacea for all that ails humanity.

  42. . . . isn’t that the reason he’s in this mess in the first place (his house was inadequately built on unsafe land)?

    Which raises the real question: “why do we need to bail him out for making bad choices in the first place?”

  43. Which raises the real question: “why do we need to bail him out for making bad choices in the first place?”

    Probably because having thousands and thousands of homeless, desperate people out there angry from the lack of support from their society is not likely to work out well for anybody.

    That and the basic notion that extreme social darwinism is great until it’s applied to you.

  44. Probably because having thousands and thousands of homeless, desperate people out there angry from the lack of support from their society is not likely to work out well for anybody.

    Knowing the government will bail you out if you get into trouble while living under precarious circumstances increases the number of people that get hurt by natural disasters Dan.

    Everyone, and I mean everyone in positions of authority, knew NO was going to be under water some day.

  45. dan, you gotta get better at trolling.

    “hey, what are those people complaining about? they’re saving their heirs from having to pay for embalming!”

  46. FEMA owes me big time for unpaid royalties.

  47. I don’t get it. If he wants to move out he moves out. He wants to move but the government won’t pay? He decides to stay. What’s the problem?

  48. Probably because having thousands and thousands of homeless, desperate people out there angry from the lack of support from their society is not likely to work out well for anybody.

    Why would you assume that absent FEMA there would be no support from society? It was the government that wouldn’t allow the Salvation Army into the flood zone in the first place.

  49. When people who don’t care about whether the government does its job well take over the government, the government ends up not doing its job well.

    Rhetoric about the unimportance of good government can cause people to oppose the use of government; it can also cause people to use the government for their own ends, without the slightest attention to making it function well at its assigned tasks.

  50. And Communism would’ve worked great if only the Russians had put the right people in charge; get the right leader into office and you’ll never find an enormous bureaucracy staffed by indifferent folk who say things like “if you want to give up and die, go ahead.”

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