So how did that infamous mold get into FEMA trailers, the ones being pulled out of Eastern Iowa at the stern request of Lt. Gov. Patty Judge? Blame it on Arkansas rain, according to William Vogel, FEMA’s top man in Iowa. He visited The Gazette today along with Judge and other officials.
It’s really very simple. While the mobile homes sat in Hope, Ark., rainwater gathered in a trough formed by a rubber seal that was supposed to protect an external compartment holding a water heater. That rainwater “wicked” up through porous fiberboard, Vodel said. With little or no ventilation in the sealed compartment, viola, you have a perfect place for mold.
Glad that’s settled. But a few other issues are still a little fuzzy.
First, after enduring a five-alarm public firestorm engulfing faulty, contaminated FEMA trailers sent to Katrina victims, how is it that the feds’ still have a sloppy “standard” inspection process that did not include the moldy water heater compartment? Vogel couldn’t say, but how many more embarrassments have to make headlines before someone requisitions fine-toothed combs?
Second, whose bright idea was it to build trailers with this external compartment? Vogel didn’t know. FEMA buys a lot of trailers from a lot of contractors.
Third, was it really necessary to move families yet again, pull out the trailers and replace them with new ones? Or could they have been cleaned on the spot? My first instinct on this was that Judge overreacted, but I’ve changed my mind, somewhat.
Vogel contends that cleaning, a.k.a “remediation” in gov-speak, would have been just as disruptive for families as replacement. If that’s truly the case, I say , fine, yank out the moldy trailers and bring in new ones. But there’s a skeptical part of me that thinks he’s overstating the impact of cleaning. Regardless, the trailers are gone and new ones are on the way. Case closed.
Lastly, how much has all this trailer-shuffling cost taxpayers? We’re still waiting for an estimate. Judge insists that doesn’t matter. “The primary concern has to be the health and safety of the people in Linn County,” she said.
“We had a hiccup here. I’m sorry that happened,” Judge said. But it’s clearly more than a hiccup for the families getting jerked around.
That said, I have to give Judge credit for standing firm and making a swift decision without forming a task force and dithering for days. And other than this mold incident, FEMA’s response in Iowa has been remarkably problem-free, so far.
Still, could FEMA start parking its trailers in Arizona or someplace dry? We’d like to avoid being sent more misery from a rainy place called Hope.