Friday, July 20, 2007

On Gift Horses and Mouths

I heard a story this morning about a guy who is suing FEMA for giving him a trailer to live in which was outgassing twice the acceptable levels of formaldehyde and other noxious gases.

I only heard a little news snippet about it, and haven't researched the details, but apparrently FEMA originally denied any fault, any knowledge of anything, they were nowhere near the scene and they've never met that woman in their lives, you know... the usual government response to anything, ESPECIALLY anything having to do with Hurricane Katrina, but now, after this guy had his trailer tested at his own expense, FEMA is now re-examining the situation,

I don't want to make too light a deal out of Katrina. It was a disaster unlike any the country has seen in my lifetime. It wiped whole neighborhoods off the map, and left whole cities, whole regions, broken and devastated. Many good people were killed, and many more were left without anything for which they had worked much of their lives.

And yes, the government screwed up the response. I will forever associate Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff with the radio interview he did with NPR's Scott Simon, in which he pooh-poohed reports of the horrific situation that was unfolding as he spoke in and around the Superdome. I wanted to climb through the radio and beat him to death, he was so pompous and uncaring.

BUT... It happened a long time ago now, and while the government did a miserable, unforgivably atrocious job handling the immediate calamity surrounding the event, an unbelievable level of federal financial aid has been made available to victims since then.

No, that aid will not bring back your dead or missing-and-presumed-dead family members,and it cannot get you back your bronzed baby shoes, or your kids' fingerpaintings, and it won't get rid of the nightmares you keep having of rushing water whisking away your struggling pet, Buster, but what all that aid WILL do is allow you to get your crap together well enough to go somewhere else (might I suggest ABOVE sea level?) and get a job, and start rebuilding your life as best you can. Is it fair? Posit that question to the Religious Professional of your choice. But whether it was fair that it happened or not, what YOU get to control is what you do with the situation.

Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOC's, can be a problem for certain people sensitive to the compounds released by materials in new construction. But for most people they are a minor problem, and one that will fade with time as the fumes spend themselves out. If my house blew up tomorrow, I would not expect the government to give me a new trailer. If the government did give me a new trailer to live in, I would probably be glad not to be completely, out-on-my-butt homeless, and not cry too much about the trailer giving me a headache. I am sympathetic to the plight of the Katrina Victims, but a guy who would invest the energy into working up a lawsuit exposing the invisible headache-gasses in his trailer, instead of getting his butt out of the trailer and into an apartment somewhere is just beyond my comprehension.

late edit: it has been hard to get consistent details on this story. A quick glance around the interweb got some stories that claimed formaldehyde levels were twice the recommended maximum, and some that said they were as high as 75 times the legal maximum. ((the latter number came from the Sierra Club's report, which might as well have been entitled "We're not biased against the Bush Administration at all, honestly!" )) Some stories talked about people dying from the fumes, some stories only mentioned persistent colds and sinus infections. the latter sounds more believable to me.

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