Monday, September 18, 2006

Whitman Lied About Ground Zero Danger, New Documents Reveal

I never thought much of former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, especially regarding EPA's fatally weak warnings about the hazards of the smoke and dust coming off the collapsed World Trade Center towers, and her inability to stand up to the White House's orders to soften the initial 9/11 press releases about the safety of the air in lower Manhattan.

But disappointment and anger is turning to outrage with newly released documents showing that Whitman actually conspired with the White House to falsely reassure New Yorkers that the air was safe.
In 2003, Whitman's then-spokeswoman, Tina Kreisher, was asked by an Environmental Protection Agency internal investigator "whether there was a conscious effort to reassure the public [in the fall of 2001].

"Ms. Kreisher said there was such an effort. This emphasis 'came from the administrator [Whitman] and the White House,' " according to newly released quotes from EPA papers.

Hugh Kaufman, an EPA senior policy analyst, told The Post yesterday, that Kreisher "blew the whistle not just on the White House, but on Whitman as well,"
Not only that, but Whitman apparently had financial interests in reassuring the public that all was well and that lower Manhattan could safely be reoccupied.
Meanwhile, Whitman's newly released financial-disclosure forms show that she said seven months before 9/11 that she would not get involved in any issue related to the finances of the Port Authority - which owns the WTC site - because she or her family owned PA bonds. Its finances could be impacted by lawsuits growing of the cleanup.

"I understand the following interests that belong to me, my spouse or my children present a conflict of interest," Whitman wrote at the time. She then listed various investments, including the bistate agency.

But Whitman was involved at Ground Zero despite that recusal, although she or her family also owned shares of Citigroup, whose insurance-company subsidiary, The Travelers, paid out hundred of millions of dollars in claims to downtown residents displaced by the attacks.

Critics said the documents indicate Whitman encouraged people to move back to near Ground Zero and work on the cleanup despite a health threat, which could have bolstered the bottom line of both the PA and Travelers.

That's because both the PA and Travelers now can argue in civil suits that they believed there was little or no danger from the air around the Trade Center based on statements made by the EPA.
Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), one of three Congressmen who last week demanded a Justice Department investigation that could lead to criminal charges again blasted Whitman:
"She conspired [with the White House] to convince people to go into an unsafe environment . . . For that, she ought to be prosecuted," Nadler said. "People are dead because of her."
An 2003 EPA Inspector General's investigation had revealed that the White House had pressured EPA into changing its press releases to add more "reassuring" language, but Kreisher's quote revealing Whitman's participation was not included in the IG's report.

According to Kaufman, who accused Whitman and the White House of manipulating information and deceiving the public, ""Until we fix the broken government, none of us is safe."

A recent study by the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York of thousands of Ground Zero workers confirmed that "that the impact of the rescue and recovery effort on their health has been more widespread and persistent than previously thought, and is likely to linger far into the future." Recovery workers are getting sick and dying from the effects of inhaling smoke and dust containing a toxic burning brew of asbestos, PCBs, jet fuel, and plastics, lead, chromium, mercury, vinyl chloride, benzene, human bodies, thousands of other toxic substances and concrete dust that was as caustic as lye.

Whitman insists that she warned of the dangers of the air at Ground Zero and that her more reassuring comments only applied to areas outside of the pile itself. New York officials were to blame for misinformation, according to Whitman.

If what these documents reveal is true, there are people who need to be punished. But of more concern to me is that these disturbing revelations will make it increasingly difficult for Americans to ever again have any confidence in government information about hazardous conditions following any future disasters. Even if people go to jail over this affair (which is highly unlikely), that confidence is something that will be hard to regain.

All of which makes for a very insecure homeland.

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