Ex-EPA chief denies allegations over 9/11 pollution

A former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is being criticized over September 11 workers' health and safety from toxic pollutants following the attacks.

At a hearing earlier this week to the US congressional panel, Christie Todd Whitman – who was the administrator of the EPA in 2001 – denied that the EPA misled the public and workers over air quality and clean water.

She said recent allegations suggesting the EPA did not do enough to protect workers and the public from hazardous materials were false, even saying that the EPA recommended wearing masks at the time.

In contrast, a study by Mount Sinai Medical Center of 9,500 World Trade Center responders in New York was issued last September and found that since the attacks 70% had new or deteriorated respiratory symptoms that are claimed to have developed during or after working at Ground Zero.

Whitman – who now heads up a consulting firm specialising in government relations, environment and energy matters – however did recognize that dust samples taken from the financial district contained high level of asbestos.

Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic committee chairman, said that six years after 9/11, light is only now being shed on ‘enormous consequences of actions’ taken by the government who knowingly exposed American citizens to toxic substances.

In response to the allegations, the EPA did not wish to be interviewed but gave edieissued the following statement:

“EPA’s statements about air quality following the terrorist attacks were based on its ever-growing body of data collected within the boundaries of Ground Zero, within the restricted zones, and in areas outside the WTC site.

“Based on that data, and in consultation with local, state and federal health agencies, it was agreed that the concentration of these compounds outside of the WTC site boundaries were generally not at levels that indicated a significant risk.

“EPA, for its part, very explicitly stated that workers on the debris pile needed to wear protective gear, since they had prolonged exposure to dust and fires that continued to burn.

“The Agency distributed more than 22,000 respirators and more than 32,000 respirator cartridges. EPA also expressed concerns at daily meetings with the city, including those expressed in a written memo to the city health department that workers were not wearing respirators.”

Christie Todd Whitman continues to be the key target of blame for the 9/11 pollution controversies. In an interview last year on US television show 60 Minutes, Whitman criticised New York City authorities for not forcing rescue workers to wear marks, also defended her own record continuing to deny claims that the EPA lied about air quality surrounding Ground Zero.

She said: “The last thing in the world that I would ever do would be to put people at risk. Of all the criticisms that I had in my career … this is by far the most personally troubling.”

Dana Gornitzki

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