Thursday, February 02, 2006

Whitman's False Statements On Ground Zero Air Quality Called "Conscience-Shocking"

A U.S. District Judge scolded former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman for reassuring Manhattan residents soon after the 2001 terrorist attacks that the environment was safe to return to homes and offices while toxic dust was polluting the neighborhood.

In issuing her 83-page decision today, Judge Deborah A. Batts refused to grant Whitman immunity against a class-action lawsuit brought in 2004 by residents, students and workers in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn who said they were exposed to hazardous dust and debris after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.

Whitman's office released several upbeat press releases from Sept. 13 to Sept. 18, 2001, claiming that air samples at Ground Zero produced registered levels "that cause us no concern."

In 2003, the EPA's Office of the Inspector General criticized the agency's response, saying it did not have available data and information to support its statements. The EPA's internal watchdog found the agency -- at the urging of White House officials -- gave misleading assurances there was no health risk from the dust in the air after the towers' collapse.

Given her role in protecting the health and environment for Americans, Whitman's "reassuring and misleading statements of safety after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks are without question conscience-shocking," Batts said.

Batts said Whitman knew that the collapse of the buildings released tons of hazardous materials into the air that would have endangered the public and yet she encouraged residents, workers and students to return to the area. "By these actions, she increased, and may have in fact created, the danger to plaintiffs," she said.

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