EPA, NYC Blamed for 9/11 Health Problems
By DEVLIN BARRETT , 09.08.2006, 06:18 PM
City and federal officials came under withering
criticism Friday from lawmakers who charged that
ground zero workers were not protected as they
clambered over a smoking pile of toxic debris - and
have not been properly cared for since.
Former Environmental Protection Agency head Christie
Todd Whitman was the most frequent target during a
day-long House hearing about the health woes
afflicting thousands of ground zero workers.
Whitman stressed in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks that the air in lower Manhattan was safe,
although she also said workers at the World Trade
Center site needed to use protective breathing gear.
In a "60 Minutes" segment to be aired Sunday, she said
the responsibility for offering such gear to workers
lay with the city.
Whitman is being sued over her public assurances, and
she was accused Friday of doing too little to protect
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who chaired the
hearing, said Whitman's September 2001 statements
"defied logic and everybody knows that."
Whitman defended herself Friday, insisting that it was
up to local authorities to make sure rescue workers
wore protective breathing gear.
"We agreed then, and I reiterate now, that the air on
the site was not clean ... We were emphatic that
workers needed to wear respirators, a message I
repeated frequently. But I did not have the
jurisdiction to force workers to wear them - that was
up to their superiors," Whitman said in a statement.
City officials already under fire for their own role
in the ongoing health problems disputed Whitman's
City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said the
federal government was responsible for work safety at
the site, and added that he did not think Whitman's
post-Sept. 11 assurances were "an appropriate way to
word the message."
In a Sept. 13, 2001, press release, the EPA said the
air around the disaster site was relatively safe. On
Sept. 16, 2001, Whitman said that tests showed air
pollution levels "that cause us no concern." Two days
later, she said she was glad to reassure New York and
Washington residents that their air and water were
Others appearing at the hearing before the House
Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats,
and International Relations, including Sen. Hillary
Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., accused the EPA of lying to
New Yorkers and endangering public health.
At a separate event Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg
defended the city's handling of the disaster, saying
it distributed masks.
"Nobody knew whether there would be health issues down
the road, and they made the decisions that they
thought were right at the time," said Bloomberg, who
succeeded Rudolph Giuliani as mayor months after the
Joe Lhota, Giuliani's former deputy mayor for
operations, said in a statement Thursday, "The EPA
publicly reported that the general air quality was
safe, and the city repeatedly instructed workers on
the pile to use their respirators."
The hearing began with testimony from Joseph Zadroga,
whose NYPD officer son died in January of respiratory
disease attributed to ground zero exposure.
Joseph Zadroga briefly lost his composure as he
described the day he found James Zadroga dead on his
bedroom floor. The father blasted the city for doing
nothing while his son was sick, saying, "He was
treated like a dog."
Public pressure has been growing for the government to
deal with health problems blamed on toxic dust at the
site. This week Mount Sinai Medical Center released a
study showing that nearly seven out of every 10 ground
zero responders suffered lung problems.
Dr. Robin Herbert, co-director of the New York
hospital's program monitoring afflicted workers, told
lawmakers that new patients are still arriving at
Mount Sinai to be treated for 9/11-related illnesses -
and thousands probably will need lifelong care.
The Bush administration said it will continue to help
sick Sept. 11 workers but would not say what their
long-term health needs might cost.
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt
told New York lawmakers Thursday that $75 million
would be delivered in the next two months to pay for
Associated Press Writer Sara Kugler contributed to