Chief among those officials was Christie Todd Whitman, a former
As administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Whitman asserted in a September 18, 2001, press release, one of many altered by the White House to present a more upbeat picture, that:
"We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in bothAs official lies go, this was a whopper because the White House, Whitman and other environmental and health officials suspected and later were made well aware that there were an array of toxins at Ground Zero and in the surrounding area from the impact of the jetliners and collapse of the towers. These included minute shards of glass and asbestos, PCBs and other poisons.
and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances. Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York New Yorkand that their air is safe to breath and their water is safe to drink." Washington, D.C.
The findings of a study that involved extensive medical and psychological examinations of 20,000 Ground Zero responders and clean-up workers released last September by
* Among the responders who had no symptoms before 9/11, 61 percent developed respiratory symptoms while working at the
* One-third of Ground Zero workers showed diminished lung capacity. Among nonsmokers, 28 percent had some breathing impairment, more than double the rate for nonsmokers in the general population.
* Many respiratory ailments such as sinusitis, asthma and related gastrointestinal problems have persisted or grown worse in the years since 9/11.
* Most of the workers who said they experienced respiratory problems at Ground Zero were still having those problems up to two and a half years later, an indication that the illnesses were becoming chronic.
* Workers were found to have a number of different ailments caused by their work, including upper respiratory illnesses (87 percent) such as sinusitis, laryngitis, and vocal cord dysfunction, lower respiratory disorders (47 percent) such as asthma and a condition known as World Trade Center cough, psychological disorders (37 percent) such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression, and musculoskeletal problems (31 percent) often from injuries that occurred while working at Ground Zero.
One worker has died from respiratory problems and many more, perhaps thousands, are expected to have significantly shorter lifespans.
At no time during her tenure as the nation's top environmental watchdog did she ever question the White House's stage management of her.
Whitman has been named in at least three pending lawsuits brought against the EPA by New York City residents and Ground Zero workers. The controversy over the health issues has led to questions about presidential wannabe Rudy Giuliani’s handling of worker safety as New York City mayor, notably his failure to require workers at the clean-up site to wear respirators.The House hearing room was packed with clean-up workers and
Whitman’s response was clever -- and deeply offensive.She claimed that the September 18 press release and other declarations that everything was copescetic were directed at residents of the neighborhood around the WTC, not the workers. And she tried to shift blame by stating that she was only acting on information from experts:
"I fully appreciate that the events of 9/11 touched raw emotions, but I am disappointed at the misinformation, innuendo and outright falsehoods that have characterized the public discussion. . . .Representative Jerrold Nadler, the subcommittee chairman and a Manhattan Democrat whose district includes Ground Zero, was having none of that:
"It's utterly false then for EPA critics to assert that I or others at the agency set about to mislead New Yorkers and rescue workers. Every statement I made was based on what experts, who had a great deal of experience in these things, conveyed to me."
"Our government has knowingly exposed thousands of American citizens unnecessarily to deadly hazardous materials. And because it has never admitted the truth, Americans remain at grave risk to this day."The cover-up of Ground Zero hazards extended well beyond the EPA and included
Then, in 2003 the EPA’s own inspector general concluded that Whitman did not have sufficient scientific information to state that the air was safe to breath and noted that the White House had altered her press releases.
In a September 13, 2001 press release, the EPA declared that air quality near the still-burning rubble at Ground Zero was "unlikely to cause significant health effects."Said Representative Anthony D. Weiner, a New York Democrat:
In a September 16, 2003, press release, the EPA declared that asbestos levels "cause us no concern."
In one EPA draft, a reference to asbestos levels in some areas being three times higher than national standards was changed to "slightly above the 1 percent trigger for defining asbestos material."
"Those quotes were unambiguous; they were reassuring and they were dead wrong. They were literally dead wrong."Whitman's Republican compadres on the subcommittee were for the most part silent.
In response to sharp questioning, Whitman claimed that she was aware of only one instance in which important information was removed from one of her public statements by the President’s inaptly named Council on Environmental Quality, which edited all of her pronouncements in the aftermath of the attack.
The New York Times said that:
"In one draft release in September (2001), Mrs. Whitman urgedShe explained that early on a decision had been made by the White House that all public statements be coordinated so that the federal government could be seen as speaking with one voice.
Lower Manhattanresidents whose apartments had been contaminated to consider having them professionally cleaned. After the statement was sent to the White House for review, the phrase about professional cleaning was removed."
This assertion that drew an angry response from Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat:
"One voice — give me a break."
Bottom Photograph by Getty Images