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Story by Isabel Macdonald and Isabeau Doucet Special to The Gazette
The Clinton Foundation has inspected 20 trailers installed at four locations in the Haitian town of Léogâne, after an investigative report by The Nation, The Gazette and the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting found a host of problems with the units designed to be used as classrooms and emergency shelters.
The foundation report says its inspection concluded that the 20 trailers, built in the U.S. by Clayton Homes and funded to the tune of $1 million by the foundation as part of a disaster preparedness plan for hurricane season, are “safely designed and structurally sound for their intended purpose.”
The article published in The Gazette on Aug. 6 reported high levels of formaldehyde in one unit as well as problems including mould, leaking, shoddy construction, lack of sanitation and poor ventilation in others.
The Clinton Foundation report contains four recommendations from structural engineer Liam O’Hanlon who assessed the units.
O’Hanlon says he found no mould or leaking, but he had access to the inside of only four of the 20 shelters. With the other 16 he checked the exterior and looked in the windows.
On whether the trailers are hurricane resistant, O’Hanlon noted that storm shutters are “key” to the shelters’ capacity to resist “debris, projectiles, or failure of the building envelope.” He “did not see any evidence of the shutters at any of the sites.”
O’Hanlon recommended installing shutters; improving ventilation; routine maintenance to fix damage from possible leaks; and tightening loose anchoring straps.
The report said shutters were shipped with the units. In Léogâne, local officials say they have yet to receive the shutters and they were not informed of the foundation’s inspection of the shelters in July.
The Clinton Foundation report did not comment on the whereabouts of the storm shutters, or on its plans for implementing the engineer’s recommendations, and did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for this article.
The Clinton Foundation also tested the air in the trailers, using engineering consultants NTA Inc., and said the levels of formaldehyde were acceptable. When the trailers are ventilated – with doors and windows open – the NTA tests showed levels averaging 20 ppb. In non-ventilated trailers the average was 109 ppb.
Tests cited in The Gazette article had found a worrying reading of 250 parts per billion in one trailer. A rate of 109 ppb would still be above the rate at which the U.S. Centre for Disease Control warns of the possibility of adverse health effects.
Formaldehyde was recently added to the U.S. Department of Health’s list of carcinogens.
With experts predicting an active hurricane season in Haiti, Léogâne Mayor Santos Alexis stresses the shelter situation is “very, very urgent.”
Léogâne civil protections officer Philippe Joseph says that without adequate sanitation facilities, he will not approve the shelters’ use in times of emergency: “There needs to be electricity to permit ventilation, there must be water and latrines, this is the minimum for us to be able to use these, whether as emergency shelters or as schools.”
The Clinton Foundation report does not address the issues of water, latrines or electricity.
André Hercule, Ste. Thérèse de Darbonne school director, said the trailers “are in a very bad state” and will soon be moved off the school property to make way for planned construction of a new “earthquake and cyclone-resistant” building.
Read more about Rebuilding Haiti at the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting website www.canadiancentreinvestigates.org/rebuild-haiti and at montrealgazette.com/haiti