Former EPA Head Says She Was Wrong To Call Ground Zero Air Safe After 9/11

Photo: Amy Sancetta/AP Images.
Nearly 15 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted for the first time that the air in the area surrounding Ground Zero was unsafe to breathe.

Speaking to The Guardian for a report to be released tomorrow on the heath crisis resulting from the attacks and their aftermath, Christine Todd Whitman, who was in charge of the EPA under President George W. Bush, apologized to the individuals affected by the poor air quality.

However, Whitman clarified that she was unaware of the dangerous air quality at the time and denied lying about it to the public.

“Whatever we got wrong, we should acknowledge and people should be helped,” she told The Guardian, adding that she still “feels awful” about the tragedy and its aftermath, and is "very sorry" that people are sick.

“I’m very sorry that people are dying and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I’m sorry. We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had,” Whitman continued.

One week after 2,753 people were killed when two hijacked commercial airplanes crashed into both towers of the World Trade Center, Whitman issued a report, stating, "I am glad to reassure the people of New York [...] that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink.”

Whitman clarified that she was merely passing along information given to her by government scientists. It recommend that individuals working within Ground Zero wear respirators, but beyond the pile, the air did “not pose a public health hazard.”

Moreover, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani oversaw the work at Ground Zero, meaning that federal government officials, including Whitman, were not in a position to enforce wearing safety gear in the affected area.

Consequently, more than 37,000 people registered with the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP), a federal organization established in 2011 to monitor the response to those affected by exposure to the toxins released at Ground Zero, have been declared sick, many with chronic respiratory illnesses or cancer. So far, more than 1,100 people covered by the WTCHP have died, including first responders and those who lived and worked in lower Manhattan.

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