FORMER EPA HEAD CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN SAYS THE EPA DIDN'T HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO FORCE GROUND ZERO WORKERS, MANY NOW SICK, TO WEAR RESPIRATORS, BUT THE CITY OF NEW YORK DID
-- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
Whitman Appears in Katie Couric's First "60 Minutes" Report to Say City Officials Were Warned In "No Uncertain Terms" of the Danger on the "Pile"
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman points the finger at New York City for not forcing its Ground Zero workers -- many of whom are now sick -- to wear protective respirators. Whitman tells Katie Couric that city officials were warned of the dangerous air on the "pile" and that the EPA lacked the authority to enforce the use of respirators. She says the city was the primary responder and had ultimate responsibility over the site. Whitman appears in Couric's first report for 60 MINUTES, a double-length segment about the serious health problems authorities say are affecting Ground Zero workers that will be broadcast Sunday, Sept. 10 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"We did everything we could to protect people from that environment and we did it in the best way that we could, which was to communicate with those people who had the responsibility for enforcing," says Whitman. "We didn't have the authority to do that enforcement, but we communicated [the need to wear respirators] to the people who did," she tells Couric. "[In] no uncertain terms [city officials were warned of the danger]. EPA was very firm in what it communicated and it did communicate up and down the line," insists Whitman. "Who had ultimate authority over the site?" asks Couric. "Really, the city was the primary responder," replies Whitman.
A significant portion of the estimated 40,000 firefighters, police, construction and other workers who recovered bodies and cleaned the World Trade Center ruins have health problems. An increasing number of studies conclude that the dust at the site, which contained asbestos, more than 400 chemicals and pulverized concrete so alkaline it is like inhaling lye, is the cause of the illnesses; several have already died from what doctors believe are the effects of breathing the air at Ground Zero.
Anger and criticism -- even charges of lying -- have been aimed at Whitman and the EPA for not emphasizing the danger enough and for declaring New York's air quality as safe. "The last thing in the world that I would ever do would be to put people at risk. Of all the criticisms that I had in my career...this is by far the most personally troubling. You want to say, 'You're wrong.' We never lied." Whitman says it was the ambient air in Lower Manhattan that was rated safe, not Ground Zero. "The readings [in Lower Manhattan] were showing us that there was nothing that gave us any concern about long-term health implications," she tells Couric, "That was different from on the pile itself, at Ground Zero. There, we always said consistently, 'You've got to wear protective gear," says Whitman.
Whitman understands that among first responders at Ground Zero, some may have been confused over that message. "It's hard to know�when people hear what they want to hear and there's so much going on, that maybe they didn't make the distinction," says Whitman. But city officials were clearly made aware of the danger on the pile, she says.
Workers were not allowed at the Pentagon clean-up after 9/11 if they were not wearing respirators. Although the city required respirators and posted sights at the site, safety reports show no more than half of the workers wore them. Some workers say they were cumbersome and clogged up, making them useless. Then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani declined to talk to Couric about Ground Zero, but he issued this statement to 60 MINUTES: "The people who worked at Ground Zero�are heroes. The government must do everything it can to make certain that they have the support needed to deal with any problems that may have developed as a result of their valiant service to our country."
Couric's report also addresses the types of illnesses affecting the Ground Zero workers, what authorities are doing to monitor and treat them and what the workers are saying about their ordeal.