Become a member and receive a signed copy of a CCIR advisor's book.
Any number of factors might be contributing to the headaches and eye irritation reported by INHAC staff and students. However, similar symptoms were experienced by those living in the FEMA trailers that were found by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have unsafe levels of formaldehyde. Lab tests conducted as part of our investigation in Haiti discovered levels of the carcinogen in the sixth-grade Clinton Foundation classroom in Léogâne at 250 parts per billion—two and a half times the level at which the CDC warned FEMA trailer residents that sensitive people, such as children, could face adverse health effects. Assay Technologies, the accredited lab that analyzed the air tests, identifies 100 parts per billion and more as the level at which “65–80 percent of the population will most likely exhibit some adverse health symptoms…when exposed continually over extended periods of time.”
Randy Maddalena, a scientist specializing in indoor pollutants at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, characterized the 250 parts per billion finding as “a very high level” of formaldehyde and warned that “it’s of concern,” particularly given the small sample size. An elevated level of formaldehyde in one of twelve trailers tested is comparable to the formaldehyde emissions problems detected in about 9 percent of similar Clayton mobile homes supplied by FEMA after Hurricane Katrina. Maddalena explained that in “normal” buildings, you’ll see rates twelve to twenty-five times lower than 250 parts per billion, “and even that’s considered above regulatory thresholds.”
According to the CDC, formaldehyde exposure can exacerbate symptoms of asthma and has been linked to chronic lung disease. Studies have shown that children are particularly vulnerable to its respiratory effects. The chemical was recently added to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ “Report of Carcinogens,” based on studies linking exposure to formaldehyde with increased risk for rare types of cancer.
“You should get those kids outta there,” Maddalena said. The scientist emphasized that Haiti’s hot and humid climate could well be contributing to high emissions of the carcinogen in the classroom. Indeed, months before the launch of the Clinton trailer project, the nation’s climate was widely cited as a key problem with a trailer industry proposal to ship FEMA trailers to Haiti for shelter after the earthquake. The proposal was ultimately rejected by FEMA, following a critical letter from Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, who argued, “This country’s immediate response to help in this humanitarian crisis should not be blemished by later concerns over adverse health consequences precipitated by our efforts.”
Yet several months later, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Clayton Homes had been awarded a million-dollar contract to ship twenty trailers to Haiti, for use as classrooms for schoolchildren. The Clinton Foundation claims it went through a bidding process before awarding the contract to Clayton Homes, which was already embroiled in the FEMA trailer lawsuit. But despite repeated requests, the foundation has not provided The Nation with any documentation of this process.
There are hints that Clayton Homes aggressively pursued the contract. For example, a company press release dated August 6, 2010, notes, “When former President Bill Clinton was named to head the relief effort, Clayton’s Director of International Development, Paul Thomas, called the Clinton Foundation to see if there was a way to help.”
The chief of staff for the office of the UN Special Envoy, Garry Conille, emphasized that the foundation’s decision-making on the project took place in a context of great urgency, with the advent of the 2010 hurricane season, when 1.5 million people were living in tent camps. “Under the circumstances, with all these people exposed, with the first rains,” said Conille, “it would have been completely acceptable to go to a single source, but we didn’t.”
The Clinton Foundation’s chief operating officer, Laura Graham, said in a phone interview that the contract was awarded to Clayton on the basis of a “limited request for proposals” from nine companies. She added that the decision was informed by “recommendations from a panel including a lot of these experts that do this work for a living, and Clayton was recommended as the most cost-efficient, with the best product and with the strongest Haitian partner.” She clarified that she did not participate in the bidding process but said there were “representatives from the foundation as well as [the UN] Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA], the UN Special Envoy Office and the International Organization for Migration [IOM]…and there was a request for proposals run by them.”
When asked to comment on that claim, Bradley Mellicker, IOM’s Port-au-Prince–based emergency preparedness and response officer, said, “That’s a lie. The Clinton Foundation paid for the containers through a no-bid process.” Imogen Wall, former spokeswoman for OCHA in Haiti, responded by e-mail that OCHA never deals with procurement or project management.
The Nation made multiple attempts to reach Bill Clinton for comment. However, the former president, known for championing the role of nonprofits in global affairs (“Unlike the government, we don’t have to be quite as worried about a bad story in the newspapers,” he recently said in a speech), never responded. A Clayton Homes official referred all queries regarding the contract to the Clinton Foundation.