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Former EPA Head Apologizes for Saying 911 Air was Safe

Sep 21, 2016

For the first time, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has apologized for assuring 9/11 responders and residents that the air in lower Manhattan was safe to breathe after 9/11. Christine Todd Whitman issued the apology in light of the fact that many responders have suffered, and continue to suffer, from illnesses related to toxic dust exposure.

According to New York Daily News, Whitman said she never lied about air quality but that she was simply relaying information given to her by government scientists. "Whatever we got wrong, we should acknowledge, and people should be helped," she said to the Guardian. "I'm very sorry that people are sick."

In the past fifteen years since the attacks, it has become increasingly clear that exposure to the toxic conditions at Ground Zero has led to a number of serious health conditions. Researchers have found higher rates of cancer, respiratory illnesses and other conditions in those exposed. In addition to physical illness, exposure to the traumatic events at 9/11 has left many with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Recently it has been shown that inhalation of the toxic dust was even more harmful than previously thought, NY Daily News reports. "I'm very sorry that people are dying, and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I'm sorry," said Whitman. "We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had."

Her apology was not well received by 9/11 advocates. "I don't believe her for one second," said John Feal, executive director of the 9/11 advocate group FealGood Foundation. "If she was sincere she would have walked the halls of Congress with me. If she was sincere, she could have gone to one of the 154 funerals with me. She was reckless and careless because of her words, and believe it or not, words have consequences. God's going to be her judge." The FealGood Foundation fought for the passage of the Zadroga Act, which provides medical benefits and compensation for 9/11 responders and survivors.

"I knew the air was no good but as a first responder that's what I signed up for," said FDNY chief Rich Alles, according to NY Daily News "But what she did jeopardized the health of every school child who returned to school in Lower Manhattan, every educator who went back to school to teach them and every person who lived in that area who returned home to breathe in toxic dust."

Whitman released a statement saying the air in lower Manhattan was "safe to breathe" only seven days after the attacks. The buildings and streets were still covered with dust and debris, which contained lead and a host of other hazardous substances. In 2003, the EPA's Office of the Inspector General issued a report stating that the agency lacked the information to make this type of statement.

The EPA advised first responders and those working on the pile to wear masks and respirators, but said the surrounding areas were safe. Federal judges ruled that Whitman was not personally responsible for her statement in 2008.

Whitman said of the situation, "Every time it comes around to the anniversary I cringe, because I know people will bring up my name, they blame me, they say that I lied and that people died because I lied, people have died because I made a mistake,"

The World Trade Center Health Program, funded through the Zadroga Act, provides free medical treatment and monitoring to 9/11 responders and survivors. More than 1,000 people who enrolled in the program have died in the past 15 years. The number of people who became ill and the types of illnesses that occurred were both greater than predicted, according to a recent summary of five research articles.

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