House Panel Defends FEMA Trailer Whistle-blower

The House Committee on Science and Technology is demanding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cease what appears to be retaliatory actions against the whistle-blower who brought attention to the threat of long-term exposure to formaldehyde in government-supplied trailers for hurricane victims.

SHARE

The House Committee on Science and Technology is demanding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cease what appears to be retaliatory actions against the whistle-blower who brought attention to the threat of long-term exposure to formaldehyde in government-supplied trailers for hurricane victims.

In a letter dispatched to Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC, and Howard Frumkin, administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Chairman Bart Gordon expresses concern that the agency may have retaliated against Christopher DeRosa for "blowing the whistle on ATSDR's conduct." Gordon declares: "We will not tolerate retaliation against any whistle-blowers."

According to the letter, reports of unhealthful levels of formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen, in FEMA trailers used by hurricane victims prompted FEMA to seek a report from ATSDR on its health consequences. But the report was limited to only short-term effects — less than two weeks. Many victims of Katrina and Rita have lived in FEMA trailers for more than two years. ATSDR administrators agreed but, according to the panel's probe, intentionally circumvented DeRosa, the director of the Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine. The letter alleges that DeRosa was circumvented because "he had already raised questions about long-term exposure issues."

DeRosa protested. The report was eventually amended to include long-term-exposure risks, but DeRosa was removed from his post and "subjected to various annoyances." He has been made to move offices twice, and his working papers and files are boxed and distributed across three campuses. The Science Committee is requesting that the CDC restore an office for DeRosa with his records and materials and to report back to the committee when complete.

—Bret Schulte

Related story: Rebuilding New Orleans