By Matt Robinson
After a two-week trial in federal court in New Orleans, the first manufacturer sued over formaldehyde in FEMA trailers was absolved of responsibility Thursday. An eight-member jury found Gulf Stream Coach, an Indiana company that made 50,000 trailers for FEMAs emergency housing program after Hurricane Katrina, did not construct an unreasonably dangerous product, and Fluor, the FEMA contractor responsible for hauling and installing the unit, was not negligent in setting up the trailer that housed New Orleanians Alana Alexander and her two children.
After the verdict was read, Alexander and her son Christopher Cooper declined to comment on the proceedings and quietly left the courtroom alone.
Alexander and Cooper claimed the temporary housing unit FEMA provided them in 2006 was contaminated with formaldehyde that worsened Coopers asthma. The trailer, one of the ubiquitous Cavalier units built by Gulf Stream, was installed by Fluor in May 2006, and the family lived in the unit until December 2007. During that time, the suit alleged, the family suffered health consequences from the toxic exposure, particularly Cooper, who was 9 years old when they moved into the trailer. Christopher had been diagnosed with asthma at age 3; the suit alleges his condition got worse as a result of living in the trailer for 19 months.
Over the course of the trial, Alexander's attorney, Tony Buzbee, argued the formaldehyde-laden trailers were set up incorrectly, damaging them. The damage led to broken seals, loose ductwork and pressure differentials inside and outside the units, which affected ambient formaldehyde through heat and humidity, then circulated contaminated air inside the living space.
The defense team, headed by attorney Andy Weinstock, argued the trailers met all FEMA specifications when Gulf Stream sold them to the U.S. government. Alexanders trailer tested 0.050 parts per million (ppm), or 50 parts per billion (ppb), a month after the family vacated the unit.
During the first week of testimony, the jury watched hours of videotaped testimony from Gulf Stream representatives, including Jim and Dan Shea, co-presidents of the company. Their testimony, along with that of Gulf Stream Vice President of Operations Scott Pullen and others, revealed that, although the manufacturer claimed to have a policy of using low-formaldehyde-emitting (LFE) processed wood in its products, up to 15 percent of the wood product purchased around the time Alexanders trailer was constructed was regular, or reg, wood, which emits more formaldehyde than LFE. At the time, no limits or standards existed on the amount of formaldehyde permissible in travel trailers such as the one Alexanders family inhabited, but the company claims it had an LFE policy its vendors should have followed. The lawsuit alleged Gulf Stream used reg wood for FEMA-spec units, and claimed that was the root of Coopers health problems.
In the videotaped testimony, Dan Shea admitted under questioning that even more of its wood could have had elevated levels of formaldehyde than the amount his brother and co-president Jim Shea had claimed. Dan Shea said only a third of the wood supplied by Weyerhauser and Samling was compliant with HUD codes for formaldehyde emissions, and he conceded that probably two-thirds or more of Gulf Streams wood from those two manufacturers violated HUD certification standards.
Other videotaped testimony included Dr. Christopher DeRosa, a researcher for the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), who testified regarding occupants potential exposure to formaldehyde. DeRosa was demoted when he challenged a study by the ATSDR, a sister agency of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In his testimony, during which he became emotional at times, DeRosa recalled that kids were presenting with clinical signs of formaldehyde toxicity, with symptoms including asthma attacks, in Katrina-affected regions, but were being returned to the environment which caused [the symptoms], namely the trailers he suspected of being the source of the toxin.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Coopers asthma had been improving, according to the live testimony of Dr. Janet Barnes, the boys pediatrician, whose office in eastern New Orleans was inundated with 6 feet of water when the levees failed after the hurricane. Her records were destroyed, but she remembered much about the young man because he had been Barnes patient since 2000. She examined Cooper in April 2008, four months after the family moved out of the trailer, and diagnosed him with allergic conjunctivitis. His asthma, however, was improving: His lung fields were clear, Barnes testified, but his eyes were involved. He had dark circles under his eyes. She noted that symptom often correlates with chronic exposure to irritants.
Dr. Karen Pacheco, who examined Cooper in 2009, found the young man may have suffered from suboptimal treatment of his asthma prior to Hurricane Katrina. Because Coopers medical records from before Aug. 29, 2005 were destroyed by flooding, however, her opinion could not be verified. Cooper reported other symptoms related to asthma and allergic responses at the time, and in videotaped testimony Pacheco said, In my opinion, his symptoms were due to formaldehyde.
The defense did not challenge whether Cooper had asthma, or that his condition worsened while in the trailer. But defense attorney Andy Weinstock, who represented Gulf Stream, argued the boys asthma had been suboptimally treated before and after Katrina and as a result, any problems with his health were due to an improper medicine regime, not exposure to formaldehyde.
Defense witnesses challenged opinions expressed by Alexanders witnesses, who had attested to improper installation of the unit and had testified that the levels of formaldehyde in the familys trailer were high enough to cause concern. But Weinstock countered that the 0.050 ppm formaldehyde in the trailer was well below levels believed to cause harm. HUDs standard of 0.4 ppm for manufactured housing is eight times as high as the level measured in Alexanders trailer; other recommended limits of exposure range from as low as 0.008 ppm to as high as 3.0 ppm.
Some of [the jurors] live in mobile homes, Weinstock said after the trial, and they understood the argument that the level in the Alexander trailer was not unreasonably high.
Add one parts running game, a dash of defense, and a whole lot of Drew Brees, and what you'll end up with is the formula for an explosive start to the Saints' 2009 season. Brees, the catalyst for New Orleans' impressive 2-0 start, has been eating through secondaries with very little resistance. No one, in over forty years, has scored as many points as New Orleans has in the first two games of the season. One thing is certain, this Saints offense is serving notice with their play on the field, and they have no intentions of slowing down.
After marching up and down the field to the tune of forty-five points against the hapless Detroit Lions, the Saints continued to "operate with great tempo" at Lincoln Financial-air mailing forty-eight to the Philadelphia Eagles and the, then, number one ranked defense in the league. Brees hooked up with his favorite courier, WR Marques Colston, for a pair of touchdowns: first a 15 yarder on the opening drive of the game, and then a spectacular leaping catch over two Philadelphia defenders for a twenty-five yard score to help New Orleans take a 17-13 point lead into halftime. But the Eagles appeared to have held the Saints to a manageable four point lead. That was until Brees and the gang went on a 31-to-9 scoring spree.
The Saints have stock-piled more weapons than they know what to do with - with a different receiver capable of putting up "fantasy football" type numbers at any time. The scary part, they haven't even begun to utilized last years' number one receiver Lance Moore, who left the game against the Eagles early in the first quarter with an injury to his hamstring. Devery Henderson(174) and Colston(128) have combined for over three hundred yards receiving on just nineteen catches. And Mike Bell, continues to improve his net worth, running the ball with abandon. Bell is forth in the league in rushing (229 yards) and didn't even play the last 12:50 of the fourth quarter against the Eagles.
But what gets lost in all the Sports Center Highlights and high scoring hoopla, is the play of the defense. In just two games the Saints' "D" has caused seven turnovers, including a league best six interceptions. Veteran Safety Darren Sharper leads the league with three pics, the last of which was returned for ninety-seven yards for a touchdown. Sure they've given up almost a half a hundred in the first two games, but with an offense like the Saints', you don't need to stop teams, just slow them down.
The Saints shouldn't have that much trouble with the Bills in week three. The Bills have a middle of the pack offense that fired its coordinator just before the start of the season. Third year quarter back Trent Edwards is fifth in the league with a 104.9QB rating. However two games into the season the jury is still out on Edwards and with an aging but no less petulant Terrell Owens lobbying for more touches, there is no indication that the 1-1 Bills will have any more success than the Lions or Eagles. Besides if the old saying is true, that "defense travels well" then the Saints steadily improving "D" should be in good shape Sunday. But whatever the case, if this game should somehow turn into a shootout, the Bills are frankly just too out gunned.
The Young Men Olympian Social Aid and Pleasure Club is partnering with Silence Is Violence and the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force to sponsor Septembers peace rally happening this Thursday September 24th in the Central City neighborhood. The YMO is celebrating 125 years of community engagement and service culminating this coming Sunday with a four hour second line parade (details and route TBA)
The peace rally begins at the Young Men Olympian, Jr. Hall, 2101 Josephine Street in Central City at 6pm sharp, returning to the Hall around 7pm. A brass band will perform after the walk.
For more information about this Peace Walk or the SilenceIsViolence/Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force partnership, call Tamara Jackson at (504) 453-1155 or Baty Landis at (504) 948-0917 or visit www.silenceisviolence.org
Researching the current Gambit cover story on the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans at Samuel J. Green Charter School was like living out a garden-set reenactment of the Adam Sandler film Billy Madison. The educators behind the Alice Waters-adapted program school president Tony Recasner, chef/teacher April Neujean, garden teacher Denise Richter and ESY NOLA director Donna Cavato not only provided testimonials about its proven methodology in building a farm-to-table dining culture, but allowed me to view their living laboratory as it was intended to be seen: through the saucer-wide eyes of a child. Every day was a new grade, every grade a new application of this radically simple form of experiential education. Slipping behind the 10-foot stalks of purple okra growing in the urban oasis, photographer Cheryl Gerber and I saw first-graders gape at their first loofah gourds ("Do they come from an Oompah-Loofah?"); fourth-graders bury their noses in white-flowering ginger ("Best smell in the world") and chocolate mint ("It smells like gum!"); and sixth-graders harvest wild amaranth grain using the thresh-and-winnow methods of hunter-gatherer civilizations ("How do you get food off of this?"). Throughout the week, I will post the transcripts of my interviews with the principals of the program. Today: Neujean, chef/teacher at Green and the food and nutrition coordinator for FirstLine Schools.
One of our early goals was to get local food into the school, which is very challenging through the cafeteria. [Meet the Farmer] was an easy way to accomplish that goal. And its great because several times a year everybody in the school is eating fresh, seasonal produce, and loving it. Its a great way to start teaching seasonality to the kids why do we have watermelon in September but not January, things like that. Great way for the kids to see that what theyre doing here at school is happening in a much bigger way out there in the world. Ben Burkett, whos a local farmer from Miss., he comes and brings his family.
[Another] one is the citrus tasting (for fifth-graders). We eat five different varieties of citrus that day. We do tasting parties with everything to get the kids to develop a vocabulary. Is it juicy, is it sweet, is it sour, things like that. That happens right before Christmas, school-wide citrus tasting. The fifth-graders will host that. We usually try to pick a class to be the host for the day. In the spring we do a strawberry tasting. We do different varieties of strawberries, including our own from the garden. They get to decide, is bigger better, things like that. Then well tie all these special events into our classes, both on the kitchen and garden side. We teach the watermelon song, create other dishes with watermelon. Theres watermelon growing out in the garden, so theyll incorporate that into it.
It was originally on the other side (of the school). It bothered me that the kids thought there was one type of food being cooked at one side of the school, and another type of food being served in the cafeteria. The inequities of that started to become really obvious. We decided at the end of my first year that when we put the kitchen in, it should be next to the cafeteria, it should be the heart of the school, and it should be one big space with one food message being sent. We have seating in here for 36 30 kids plus table leaders and volunteers. Weve also built in space for observations. We can get observed by other school leaders, but also if we have visitors that want to come and observe classes, just like in the garden, we have a space for them. (Pointing at windows) Those were old doors before that were out of code and in bad shape. I really wanted to put a window in there because I wanted the kids to be able to stand in here and see the garden. Were cooking food from the garden, and I wanted them to be able to feel the whole life cycle when theyre cooking.
Things that I never thought were going to be popular have been really popular. Last year we grew a lot of turnips. People think that kids will only eat a certain kind of food, but Im convinced and have seen time and time again and its the Edible Schoolyard philosophy if they grow it and they cook it, they will eat it. Turnips were incredibly popular, smashed turnips and turnip greens. All of our greens we had a lot of kale in the garden last year, and we did sauteed kale with garlic. People would think kids would never eat kale, but they really liked it. Eggplant has been really popular. We have an eggplant caponata dish we serve at lots of special events, because the kids really love it. Kids love anything thats really tactile. Weve stuffed ravioli with everything from nasturtium to spinach we had growing in the garden. It seems kind of bizarre to them, but they love the bizarre.
Got $1,500? That's the ducats you'll need if you want to attend the Roosevelt New Orleans' official grand opening weekend Oct. 23-25.
Sounds expensive, but it's a weekend that sounds more like a luxury ship cruise than a plain old hotel opening. For the price, you not only get a room, but two tickets to the Neville Brothers Oct. 23 as they perform in the hotel's intimate supper club, the Blue Room. It gets even swankier the next night with a black-tie-only performance by Irma Thomas and Allen Touissant in the Blue Room, complete with a four-course dinner and Champagne.
It would also be a good chance to check out the hotel's signature restaurant, John Besh's Domenica, as well as to sip a Sazerac in the revived Sazerac Bar and see if the cocktail lives up to its namesake.
Not sure how many New Orleanians will have the money for such a luxe weekend, but the thought of the Nevilles in the Blue Room (!) is sure to stir some nostalgic hearts -- and loosen a few pocketbooks.
More daily papers are making the move to $1 single-copy weekday prices (the latest being the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). The vast majority, however, are sticking with 50 and 75 cents as their sweet spot.
Stephen Maloney of New Orleans CityBusiness breaks my favorite story of the day: SDT trash magnate Sidney Torres will be filming his own reality show pilot for the cable network TLC, and it'll be taped as Sidney & Co. pick up all the debris during the Voodoo Music Experience.
Happy 84th birthday to The Louisiana Weekly.
WWL-TV has come to a settlement with the city over the mayor's emails and calendar pursuant to the state's public records law.
Chris Paul and Lil Wayne shot hoops together in New York, says MTV.
Jeff Adelson of The Times-Picayune has one of the most poker-faced sentences in the history of journalism in today's story "Parents say bus driver has bad attitude":
Polk said his daughter was upset because D'Antoni had singled her out and "made fun of her" on the bus, tearing up a hat she had been given as part of her pre-kindergarten class at Abney Elementary School.
"I told him I was going to rip off both his legs and then beat him with them," said Polk, who added that he did not raise his voice as he spoke to the driver.
Blind item: Which local TV news operation saw two more on-air personalities leave the building this week -- one for the West Coast and one for Lake Charles?
Karen Carter Peterson, speaker pro tem of the Louisiana House of Representatives, just announced in a statement she would not be running for mayor of New Orleans in 2010. With Mitch Landrieu and Arnie Fielkow also deciding not to run in recent weeks, Peterson would've been a natural frontrunner in a race where the only declared candidates to date are state Rep. Austin Badon, state Sen. Ed Murray and housing advocate James Perry. Peterson's statement in full:
Over the past several months, I have been truly moved by the outpouring of support from many members of the community encouraging me to become a candidate for Mayor of the City of New Orleans. It has been very humbling to interact with so many constituents expressing their concerns about the state of our recovery and revitalization four years after Hurricane Katrina. After full consideration and thoughtful examination, however, I have decided not to seek election to the Office of Mayor. Instead, I will continue to passionately serve the people of this great City and State in my current role as Speaker Pro Tem of the Louisiana House of Representatives.
With Mitch Landrieu and Arnie Fielkow also deciding not to run in recent weeks, Peterson would've been a natural frontrunner in a race where the only declared candidates to date are state Rep. Austin Badon, state Sen. Ed Murray and housing advocate James Perry.
Peterson's statement in full:
I am more inspired than ever by the level of civic engagement that is now characteristic of many in our City. Citizens have formed non-profit organizations, become active in their neighborhood associations, church groups, and social organizations to move this City in the right direction. It is a testament to the will and resolve of the people of New Orleans. As I have over the past decade, I will work tirelessly to improve the quality of life for our citizens by fighting to provide equal access to health care for those who need it the most, improving our public schools so that our children get the education they deserve, encouraging economic development that provides real opportunities for families, and ensuring a full recovery for one of the greatest American cities.
Thursday, September 24 through Sunday, October 4 is Fall Beauty Week at Saks (The Shops at Canal Place, 301 Canal St., 524-2200; www.saksfifthavenue.com) where you can try all the latest beauty products, get tips on how to use them and how to choose which ones you should take home. Its the perfect time to stock up on favorites like Diorshow mascara, Nars blush, Crème de la Mer and Kiehls lip balm because youll receive a metallic Stephanie Johnson bag filled with beauty swag when you spend $75 and a $100 gift card when you spend $450 or more Thursday, September 24 through Sunday, September 27.
Chef Guillermo Peters (pictured) plans to reopen his Mexican restaurant Taqueros next Tuesday, Sept. 29.
I dont really go back and re-live that sort of thing. Some of the big votes that Ive thought about, some of the jurys still out. And at this point, maybe Id answer that question another way, probably the singular vote that stands out that went against the grain, and it turns out to be the best vote that I cast, was my no vote to the $51.5 billion to [Hurricane] Katrina. That probably was my best vote.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), in response to the question What vote would you like to redo? (Source: The Hill, Sept. 21, 2009)
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Also performing will be Mark Bingham and Anna Pardenik. - David Symons
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