Federal judgeFederal judge: EPA director Whitman misled about NY air safety after 9/11, increasing -- even creating -- danger to public

Published 3 February 2006

Federal judge says former EPA director knowingly misled the public and New York City authorities about the presence of toxins in the air in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, thus contributing — perhaps even causing — many of the health problems which ensued

Christie Todd Whitman, when she led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made “misleading statements of safety” about the air quality near the World Trade Center in the days after the 9/11 attack and may have put the public in danger, a federal judge found yesterday. The pointed criticism of Whitman came in a ruling by the judge, Deborah Batts of Federal District Court in Manhattan, in a 2004 class action lawsuit on behalf of residents and schoolchildren from downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn who say they were exposed to air contamination inside buildings near the trade center. “The allegations in this case of Whitman’s reassuring and misleading statements of safety after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks are without question conscience-shocking,” Judge Batts said.

Judge Batts was unsparing of the former EPA director (2001-3): Mrs. Whitman knew that the towers’ destruction had released huge amounts of hazardous emissions, Judge Batts found, but as early as 13 September 2001 Whitman and the agency put out press releases saying that the air near ground zero was relatively safe and that there were “no significant levels” of asbestos dust in the air. They gave a green light for residents to return to their homes near the trade center site. “By these actions,” Judge Batts wrote, Mrs. Whitman “increased, and may have in fact created, the danger” to people living and working near the trade center. Judge Batts said that Mrs. Whitman was not entitled to immunity because she was a public official. Judge Batts allowed the suit to proceed on some counts against the EPA.

About 2,000 tons of asbestos and 424,000 tons of concrete were used to build the towers.

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