[JURIST] The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) [official website] argued on Wednesday that it should be immune from lawsuits brought by Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] evacuees who claim they were injured by toxic fumes released by emergency trailers provided by the agency. FEMA made the argument before the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website], which is hearing one of a number of trailer-related lawsuits brought against the agency. An attorney for the plaintiffs said FEMA should be held liable for issuing trailers that did not satisfy federal safety codes, and a firm representing clients in a similar case has said [firm materials] that formaldehyde [CDC materials] levels in some trailers were as much as 70 times higher than safe levels. A US Attorney representing FEMA argued that only Congress has the authority to address possible governmental negligence in the situation. Plaintiffs in the case are also seeking class-action status for the lawsuit. AP has more.
FEMA has acknowledged a Center for Disease Control (CDC) report finding unsafe formaldehyde levels in many of the trailers, but has issued a statement [press releases] saying it did not know of the problems at the time the trailers were purchased and assuring the public that it has taken steps to remedy the problem. Earlier this month, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee began hearings [hearing materials; Washington Post report] into the both the government's and manufacturers' actions relating to the unhealthy trailers.