Ten years ago Hurricanes Katrina and Rita tore into the Gulf Coast and displaced more than a million residents. For many of these people, trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency became their homes.
But many of the new occupants soon found it hard to breathe, suffering flulike symptoms, stinging eyes, and nosebleeds. The culprit was formaldehyde, which emanated from the hastily assembled, substandard materials used to make the trailers. The toxic FEMA trailers became an embarrassment to the agency and, in the eyes of many, emblematic of the government’s mismanaged response to the disaster.
A decade after the storms Distillations followed CHF researcher and medical anthropologist Nicholas Shapiro as he went searching for the remaining FEMA trailers. His search took him to the oil fields of North Dakota, where a different kind of housing crisis is taking place.