Standing Up For Asthmatic Children In The Gulf Coast

  • When former Press Secretary to President Bush, Scott McClellan, wrote about the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, he said, "We spent most of the first week in a state of denial."  Now, as the third anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma approaches, the state of denial remains in place.  There is no stronger evidence of the administration's shortcomings than its ineffective response to the housing crisis in the Gulf Coast communities shattered by those storms, and the health crisis that has ensued. 

     

    On May 28, the Washington Post highlighted the sad situation of families shunted from flooded homes to FEMA trailers.  Gina Bouffanie, a Mississippi mother displaced by the storms, and the daughter she was pregnant with while she lived in a FEMA trailer are both ill.  The 15-month-old child has been diagnosed with severe asthma.  The following day, National Public Radio profiled the Huckabee family of Mississippi.  The family has moved twice to avoid adverse health effects.  Their children have been treated for asthma since the storm, and two of the kids have been hospitalized three times each.

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    Even the government admits that many of the trailers are full of a known carcinogen --formaldehyde.  Thousands of children living in those trailers are showing signs of lung damage, like asthma.  The government's response includes moving them out of the unhealthy trailers before summer enhances the poisonous effect of formaldehyde.  But housing options are slim and expensive, so 24,000 FEMA trailers remain in use. 

     

    The Huckabees moved to a temporary hotel and the children's health has improved.  However, the government gave them notice that vouchers to pay for the motel lodging will end in early June.  To add insult to alleged injury ("Doctors cannot conclusively link her asthma to the trailer," according to the Post), the government plans to study the damage done to 5,000 of these kids, but only for the next five years.  Five years is too short for evidence of cancer to appear, according to experts.  Meanwhile, doctors in the region are prescribing nebulizers at unprecedented rates, and worry what will become of these kids long term.

     

    Enter Bennie Thompson, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing parts of Mississippi.  Rep. Thompson said "Enough," and demands that the government cover the costs of treating these patients who have been damaged by formaldehyde, not just study their damaged lungs.  Rep. Thompson's demand suggests a hypothesis, and the White House should take notice - complacency is a killer, especially when the nation's smallest lungs are involved. 

     

    The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) supports access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans.  AAFA is also a member of the National Health Council. The Council and its member organizations share a common objective: improving the health of all people, particularly those with chronic diseases and/or disabilities.

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Published On: June 04, 2008