Former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Christine Todd Whitman, admitted she was wrong about the air-quality following the 9/11 attacks.
Whitman told New Yorkers on September 18, 2001 that the air surrounding Ground Zero was safe to breathe, but later reports determined the EPA lacked enough information to make the claim. Since then, thousands of rescue workers have experienced chronic and crippling lung ailments due to the poor air quality.
“I’m very sorry that people are sick,” she told the Guardian for a report on the growing health crisis. “I’m very sorry that people are dying and if the EPA and I contributed to that, I’m sorry. We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had.”
This is the first time Whitman has publicly apologized for her mistake, despite multiple findings the air was unsafe to breathe. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the collapse of the World Trade Center released nearly 2,000 tons of asbestos and hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete dust into the air.
These toxins have led to chronic respiratory illnesses or cancer. Thirty-seven thousand individuals exposed to Ground Zero have been declared sick, according to the World Trade Center Health Program, a federal organization created in 2011 to oversee those exposed to toxins.
Whitman has consistently maintained that she made the announcement on the advice of government scientists, but a 2003 report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the EPA charged that the EPA assertion was largely unfounded.
EPA scientist Cate Jenkins argues the agency blatantly lied, telling CBS News in 2006 that the EPA “knew this dust was highly caustic, in some cases as caustic and alkaline as drano.”
New Yorkers sued Whitman in 2008 for understating the danger, but a federal appeals court ruled that Whitman could not be held liable for health problems caused by the incident.
Whitman told the Guardian she still “feels awful” about the tragedy. “Whatever we got wrong, we should acknowledge and people should be helped,” she said. “If people are dying from this…then you have got to blame the message they were hearing.”
At the time, former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and other politicians bashed the Bush administration for the EPA’s blunder. Whitman still plans to vote for Clinton come November, telling MSNBC in June that Clinton is “more stable” than Trump.
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