Saturday, February 04, 2006

Post-9/11 air quality cover-up continues

Post-9/11 air quality cover-up continues: Democrats

By Christian Wiessner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the White House continue to mislead the public about air quality in the Ground Zero area immediately after the September 11 attack and have not properly decontaminated the area, two congressional Democrats said on Friday.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said the Bush administration's motive for initially lying about the air quality was economically driven, noting the New York Stock Exchange and major brokerage and financial firms were in the area.

"Initially, it was probably an economic decision," he said. "Get Wall Street running, get the economy going immediately and if the people of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn have to be casualties, so be it."

Nadler and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton said Thursday's decision by a judge to allow a class-action lawsuit against the EPA validates charges that the EPA lied about air quality in the days after the attack.

"From day one, it was obvious that (former EPA Administrator) Christie Todd Whitman and the EPA were lying to the people of New York when they started saying within two days after the disaster that the air was safe to breathe and the water was safe to drink," Nadler said at a press conference.

"They said it before there was any data to indicate that and they kept saying it when there was plenty of data to indicate that the air was not safe.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, in a written opinion handed down on Thursday, blasted the EPA and Whitman for reassuring people that it was safe to return to their homes and workplaces. She said Whitman's statements encouraging residents to return "shock the conscience."

"If this country were operating properly, we would be having criminal prosecutions of some of the federal officials involved in this and maybe we eventually will," Nadler said.

Clinton said it had been more than two years since a report from the EPA inspector general concluded the agency has misled the public about Ground Zero air quality.

She said the EPA was "under pressure from the White House" to make residents and workers believe air quality was much better than it was in the days after the attacks.

Nadler said indoor areas around Ground Zero still need proper decontamination and the government's failure to do so will lead to countless future deaths of people who breathed air fouled asbestos insulation, computers, furniture, carpet and other materials from the destroyed buildings.