Haiti Liberté: Update: Clinton Shelters Still Unsafe, Say Léogâne Officials

07Sep11

by Isabeau Doucet & Isabel MacDonald
7 September 2011

The Clinton Foundation has made public the results of its inspection of 20 trailers designed to be used as hurricane shelters and classrooms in Haiti, after a Nation magazine investigation found high levels of formaldehyde in one unit as well as problems including mold, leaking, shoddy construction, lack of sanitation and poor ventilation in others.

While the foundation has backed off previous claims that the shelters built in the southern town ofLéogâne are “hurricane proof,” they maintain that the 20 trailers, built in the U.S. by Clayton Homes and funded to the tune of $1 million by the foundation, are “safely designed and structurally sound for their intended purpose.

However, the Léogâne mayor’s office maintains that they are unfit as emergency hurricane shelters or classrooms. Léogâne civil protections officer, Philippe Joseph, says that without adequate sanitation facilities, he will not approve the shelters’ use in times of emergency, adding “there needs to be electricity to permit ventilation; there must be water and latrines; this is the minimum for us to be able to use these whether as emergency shelters or as schools.

The Clinton Foundation report, which contains four recommendations from structural engineer Liam O’Hanlon who assessed the units, does not address the issues of water, latrines or electricity. O’Hanlon reported moisture in the units but no mold or leaking, although he had access to the interiors of only four of the 20 shelters.

He noted that storm shutters are “key” to the shelters’ capacity to resist “debris, projectiles, or failure of the building envelope.” He “did not see any evidence of the shutters at any of the sites.

O’Hanlon recommended installing storm shutters and improving ventilation, as well as routine maintenance to fix damage from leaks and tighten loose anchoring straps.

The Clinton Foundation declined to comment on the whereabouts of the storm shutters, or on its plans for implementing the engineer’s recommendations, and did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

According to O’Hanlon, Clayton Homes shipped the storm shutters. However, in Léogâne, local officials say they have yet to receive them, and they were not informed of the foundation’s inspection of the shelters in July. They have also not received the report, which is only available in English.

That inspection included air tests by the engineering consultants NTA Inc. When the trailers are unventilated, NTA found levels of the carcinogen formaldehyde – to which children are particularly vulnerable – rise to 109 parts per billion (ppb), which is above the rate at which adverse effects have been documented in sensitive populations.

The foundation defends these levels, citing 750 ppb as a “permissible exposure limit” in industrial settings. Peggy Jenkins, a California Air Resources Board official specializing in classroom air quality, says this standard is “really not the appropriate yardstick,” because it was “established for healthy adults, as opposed to growing children.

Jenkins says “they should have ventilation,” adding the heat of the classrooms, where NTA recorded some temperatures of over 98.6 degrees, is also “really unacceptable.

She added that the moisture the engineer reported in some trailers was also cause for concern, predicting “You will have mold in there very quickly.

Jenkins does not think it would be possible to establish whether there was a mold problem by looking through windows as O’Hanlon had done. “Many mold problems are hidden,” she said. “You really do need to go in and do an inspection.

Reached by telephone, O’Hanlon, who was accompanied on the inspection by an architect working with the Clinton Foundation, explained that he had not entered most of the shelters because “They didn’t have keys to all of them, but they’re all the same.” He added: “So there wasn’t anything to see.

The engineer, who said he “had to sign a privacy agreement with” the Clinton Foundation, declined to answer questions about the shelters’ present safety, given the absence of storm shutters observed in his report.

André Hercule, St. Thérèse de Darbonne’s school director, told Haïti Liberté that the trailers “are in a very bad state” and will soon be moved off the school property to make way for planned construction of a new “earthquake and cyclone-resistant” building.

Philippe Joseph insists that many of the problems could have been avoided by simply consulting with the mayor’s office, adding “the biggest problem is that the funds meant to rebuild Haiti are used by the Clinton Foundation to make a project to promote the Clinton Foundation but that cannot serve the population.

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One Response to “Haiti Liberté: Update: Clinton Shelters Still Unsafe, Say Léogâne Officials”

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