Saturday, September 09, 2006

Whitman in denial about saying WTC area air was safe to breathe days after 9/11

Former EPA Chief, Christine Todd Whitman blamed for saying the air was safe, she says she was misunderstood
WABC Eyewitness News

(Lower Manhattan-WABC, September 8, 2006) - Lawmakers will be grilling federal officials today on the festering health problems faced by thousands of workers done in by the toxic air they breathed at Ground Zero. But the woman who said that air was safe, now says "we all misunderstood her". She's hanging the blame for that mix-up on Rudy Giuliani and his administration.

Eyewitness News reporter Ken Rosato is live in Lower Manhattan with the story.

A house subcommittee begins hearings at 10:30 this morning on the Ground Zero health crisis. But Christie Whitman has already gotten her side of the story out in a TV interview.

Governor Pataki, (R) New York: "Whenever I'm down there, you can still taste the air and feel the air. And, you just know that those who spent hundreds of hours down here are at risk of bodily and other health concerns."

Taste it, feel it?

Whitman says New Yorkers got it wrong, especially at Giuliani's City Hall. The former head of the EPA tells 60 minutes:

"The mayor's aides ignored her warnings that workers at Ground Zero should wear respirators to protect their health."

Whitman says she alerted city officials "in no uncertain terms".

But New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler tells reporters:

"She (Whitman) is lying to protect herself. Maybe her lawyer is telling her there is potential criminal liability to what she did, because there ought to be."

Federal studies show respirators were used by fewer than 45 percent of the workers at Ground Zero.

Contrast that with the pentagon scene, where 100 percent of the cleanup crew had to wear a respirator or they weren't allowed on the site.

There were strong emotions at a public meeting last night. People who live around Ground Zero say they're worried that their decision to live Downtown may harm their own health and that of their children

Public Speaker: "On September 18th they reopened Lower Manhattan for business. Christine Todd Whitman told the people of New York City the big lie, 'your air is safe to breath' ".

Whitman tells 60 minutes:

"EPA was very firm in what it communicated and it did communicate up and down the line"

But, what about her comments five years ago that testing showed the air was safe to breath?

In repeated interviews, Whitman said, "there is no reason for concern."

Whitman says she was referring to the air in Lower Manhattan in general, not the specific air quality in and around Ground Zero. She also says she communicated this point to city officials but maybe they may have missed that point.

As we approach the five year mark, we will bring you reports on the changes since September 11th. Live coverage from Ground Zero begins Sunday.