As early as March 2006, FEMA began to receive complaints about formaldehyde odors. After one trailer was tested, an April 2006 e-mail sent from a FEMA attorney to another staffer concluded, "The end result — well above OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards Tester himself developed eye-watering symptoms of exposure."
Yet, in response to complaints, FEMA's legal department advised that testing "would imply FEMA's ownership of the issue." Another read, "Do not initiate any testing until we give the OK...Should [tests] indicate some problem, the clock is running on our duty to respond to them."
From the testimony of Scott Needle, MD to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:
My concern in this issue stems from my experience treating children in Hancock County, Mississippi in the weeks and months following Hurricane Katrina. In spring 2006, certain patterns of illness emerged among some of my patients. Many children returned repeatedly to my office with symptoms that would not go away, or that would clear up and then recur: sinus infections, ear infections, colds, and other respiratory symptoms.
In talking with these families, I found that they all shared two common characteristics. First, they were all living in travel trailers provided by FEMA. Second, these families reported that their symptoms started not long after moving into these trailers.