Blame the Vicitm

It’s the American way. In another (possible) FEMA scandal, it has been reported that the trailers provided to victims of Hurricane Katrina have levels of formaldehyde that exceed levels of acceptance. Formaldehyde is a preservative that can cause breathing problems and other ailments.

FEMA denies that the trailers were unsafe when they were originally provided to the victims, and that the increases levels, if the even exist, are most likely due to the behavior of those living in the trailers. Cooking, smoking, and the storing of cleaning supplies can all increase the levels of the chemical. FEMA also claims that the tests, done by a newspaper in Iowa, showing the unsafe levels were not conducted according to the proper criteria, and because of that they mistrust the results.

Earlier this month a New Orleans judge ruled that FEMA could be sued for providing unsafe trailers. The judge also claimed that FEMA delayed investigations into the claims of high formaldehyde levels because of the possible legal ramifications.

Now, I would like to think that FEMA didn’t intentionally (or unintentionally) give the victims of Katrina poisoned trailers. And their claim that some of the trailers have increased levels because of cooking, smoking, and cleaners is probably true and on the level. However, the cynic in me has to believe that they knew something was up, and it is not like FEMA has the best record as far as how they do their jobs. Granted, their responses since Katrina have been better, but we are not talking about that. Right now we are still talking about Katrina and its fallout.

Maybe those trailers weren’t steaming with formaldehyde (I really hope they weren’t because that would just be too grotesque to think about), but maybe their levels were elevated. Still within acceptable amounts, but elevated, so that any amount of cooking, cleaner storage, or smoking could then raise them into the unacceptable area. I have no idea, but knowing our government’s tendency to skimp on things for people that don’t have any money or political power, I do not think this is too far of a stretch. So now, technically, FEMA can be right when it claims it is the victims’ behavior that has made the trailers unsafe. It’s akin to giving someone a car with overinflated, but still working, tires, and then blaming their driving when later on that day the tires explode because the air expanded from the friction of driving. Okay bad example, but I still think it illustrates the point I am trying to make.

I am not saying blame the government or that the government is all bad that deliberately does things to harm its citizens, but I do not necessarily believe that they are above it, either. I think it is time that both the citizenry and the government start taking responsibility for their actions. If you smoked in your home, then admit that maybe you share some of the blame for making the air quality in your home less safe. If FEMA gave people trailers that were borderline safe, then they should cop t it, and work to rectify the situation.

Of course, the judge in New Orleans probably didn’t help matter by making suing possible, since we are a sue happy culture, and the amount of possible fraudulent legal cases from his rulings is extremely high. But, then again, if the agency did give trailers that were either safe, or just on the line of acceptable then they need to be held accountable, and unfortunately, threatening them with financial harm seems to be the only way to hold any large organization accountable anymore.

It is probably too late to know the truth of the matter, and that is a shame because no matter how this turns out, our faith in FEMA and the rest of the government will take another blow. How many more can it take before we lose faith entirely?


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