Energy and Commerce leaders press for answers on contaminated trailers

Energy and Commerce Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), head of the consumer protection subcommittee, have sent a letter to administration officials demanding answers on the use of contaminated trailers to house oil spill clean-up crews along the Gulf of Mexico. The letter follows similar missives sent last week by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and by Energy and Commerce members Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the environment subpanel.

In particular, the latest letter points out that representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the General Services Administration (GSA) told Rush's panel in April that "rigorous measures" had been put in place to ensure the trailers would not be used for housing. The representatives also suggested that the trailers no longer contained dangerous levels of formaldehyde because of the passage of time since they were first used to house victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 — a claim that could not be verified since the agencies didn't test the trailers.

"Why did FEMA decide not to test the trailers ... before deciding to sell them to the public?" the letter asks. "What would have been the cost to the Agency of conducting such tests?"

More than 100,000 FEMA trailers were auctioned off earlier this year, despite evidence they were contaminated with formaldehyde and unsuitable for people to live in. The letter is addressed to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and GSA Administrator Martha Johnson.