Whitman Defends EPA Actions in 9/11 Aftermath

June 27, 2007
During a June 24 congressional committee hearing, former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said that when she declared that the air around Ground Zero was safe in the Sept. 11 aftermath, she based her decision on the assurances of agency scientists.

Testifying for the first time at a congressional hearing convened solely to evaluate EPA’s actions in the aftermath of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, Whitman also said that the allegations about her misleading New Yorkers about the air quality in lower Manhattan were “outright falsehoods.”

"I fully appreciate that the events of 9/11 touch raw emotions," Whitman testified before the House Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee. "But I am disappointed at the misinformation, innuendo and outright falsehoods that have characterized the public discussion about EPA in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks."

Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-Manhattan, said he convened the hearing because lawmakers “owe it to the heroes and victims of 9/11 – especially those that have now become sick – to uncover what went wrong, and ensure that it never happens again.”

“In the 6 years since the attacks, we have accumulated a mountain of evidence that tens of thousands of those exposed [to the air at and around Ground Zero] are suffering from chronic respiratory disease, and, increasingly, a variety of rare cancers,” Nadler said. “The sick includes 10,000 firefighters. And, the deaths of at least two individuals – James Zadroga and Felicia Dunn-Jones – have been linked unquestionably by government medical examiners to World Trade Center dust. Nonetheless, the federal government still refuses to respond appropriately.”

Whitman: Assurances Were for Lower Manhattan, Not Ground Zero

Whitman – who now is president of a consulting firm that specializes in government relations, environment and energy issues – claimed that reassurances that the air quality was safe pertained to lower Manhattan, not at Ground Zero. She insisted that she always distinguished between the two.

This statement contradicts a press release issued by EPA in the 9/11 aftermath stating that Whitman announced that “results from the agency's air and drinking water monitoring near the World Trade Center and Pentagon disaster sites indicate that these vital resources are safe.”

Whitman also stated that the Bush administration pressured her about the importance of reopening the New York Stock Exchange, but she insisted that the Ground Zero cleanup was more necessary.

Whitman also said that she advised that Ground Zero workers wear respirator masks and other protective equipment. However, she added that the agency had no authority or ability to enforce that requirement and that EPA is not responsible for the illnesses suffered by the workers.

OSHA: Enforcement Would Have Been Ineffective

Whitman was not the only one grilled by lawmakers. OSHA also has come under fire for failing to enforce workplace safety regulations on Ground Zero. Nadler criticized the agency for allowing office and other indoor workers to reoccupy workplaces that had not been cleaned or tested.

Former OSHA Administrator John Henshaw, who headed the agency in 2001, defended OSHA's decision not to enforce regulations, explaining that it would have taken days or weeks to develop the necessary evidence to support citations. If the citations were contested, an administrative law judge would have had to review the case and ultimately issue corrective action, Henshaw explained. Instead, the agency entered partnerships with unions, contractors, city employees and management to ensure OSHA compliance.

“We had to deploy a strategy that achieved compliance as soon as the hazard was recognized so corrective action was immediate,” Henshaw explained.

Overall, Henshaw said he is proud of the way OSHA responded during the 9/11 aftermath.

“Despite the highly intense, highly emotional and highly dangerous rescue, recovery and cleanup mission, this nation did not lose another life at that site during the 10-month operation,” Henshaw said.

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