Club Activist Wins Award, Wages Formaldehyde Fight
The Mississippi Small Business Administration has announced that Becky Gillette, a business journalist and longtime Mississippi Sierra Club activist, will be honored with its 2008 Small Business Journalist Award on May 21 in Biloxi.
"It is all the more remarkable that I received this award considering how many times big business tried to get me fired from my job as a business reporter," Gillette says. "I was very fortunate to have a publisher who always stood behind me. There were some business leaders who thought it was not appropriate for a journalist to also be a volunteer environmental activist."
Gillette, who recently relocated to the Arkansas Ozarks, has been dubbed the "Erin Brokovich of Formaldehyde" for breaking the story that trailers supplied by FEMA to house hurricane refugees along the Gulf Coast in 2005-2006 were poisoning residents with formaldehyde. Now she and fellow activists have found high levels of the chemical in the so-called Mississippi Cottages that replaced the FEMA trailers. "The cottages were supposed to be a pilot program to develop safer and more humane emergency housing," she says. "Instead, they used the same manufacturers and the same materials and ended up with the same problem: high formaldehyde levels—a little cuter but the same junk."
Gillette and her colleagues recently discovered high formaldehyde levels in a 92-unit apartment complex in Truckee, California, where an infant died in early May; the Nevada County Health Department and the University of San Francisco are now investigating the situation. "The Truckee apartment complex is very important to pushing our campaign beyond the borders of FEMA trailers, "she says. "Most people still don't recognize this is a widespread problem not just confined to FEMA housing."