Last Wednesday, on Capitol Hill, at a hearing packed with reporters, photographers, constituents, and industry reps, Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) zeroed in on a key moment in April 2006 that contradicted the testimony of Jim Shea, CEO of Gulf Stream.
Shea’s company was paid $500 million to supply the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with 50,000 trailers housing displaced persons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Residents in some trailers would later complain of health problems including bloody noses, burning eyes, acute respiratory illnesses, and even miscarriages – as Amanda Spake reported in The Nation months before most in the mainstream media paid attention to this scandal. Shea testified that his company did nothing to hide any pertinent information about health issues associated with Gulf Stream trailers.
Yet in April 2006, as CNN prepared to air a story on elevated formaldehyde levels found in the trailers, Gulf Stream sent a statement to the network which Rep. Welch read aloud at the hearing: “We are not aware of any complaints of illness from our many customers of… travel trailers over the years, including travel trailers provided under our contracts with FEMA.” Rep. Welch asked Shea, “Did your company make that statement?”
“We were speaking retrospectively,” Shea said awkwardly, “prior to the March issue – when [the problems] started.”
Rep. Welch continued: “On March 20, 2006… you received a statement – this was before you issued the ‘no complaint’ statement – and I’ll quote, ‘There is an odor in my trailer that will not go away. It burns my eyes and I am getting headaches everyday. I’ve tried many things, but nothing seems to work. Please, please, please, help me’.… How do you square your statement to CNN – ‘we are not aware of any complaints of illness’ made in April 2006 – with a statement from a customer [in March] that was a complaint?… Had you received any complaints before April 2006 when you issued your statement to CNN that you had had no complaints?”
Shea paused a good five seconds before responding. “The complaints related to this matter that we received were two,” he said.