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What was known about post-9/11 air-- MSNBC Article

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  • What was known about post-9/11 air-- MSNBC Article

    Found this on MSNBC this morning....sure to provoke some discussion around the station tonight. E229LT, E40, FDNYRR (and the rest of the gang as well) ? Any thoughts?

    What was known about post-9/11 air
    By Lisa Myers, NBC News

    Just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the agency responsible for the environmental health of Americans declared the air and water safe in New York. But now, in her first interview since the release of a troubling report, the Environmental Protection Agency's top watchdog says the agency didn't have the facts when it said it was safe to move back to the neighborhoods near Ground Zero. And she's pointing the finger all the way to the White House.

    IN THE WAKE of 9/11, there were serious concerns about whether the air around Ground Zero was filled with toxins - unsafe for workers and residents.
    But by Sept. 18, 2001, many New Yorkers were back in their apartments and on the job. Partly because of a press release that day from the Environmental Protection Agency reassuring New Yorkers that "their air is safe to breathe."

    Was that press release misleading? According to Nikki Tinsley, "It was surely not telling all of the truth."

    In an exclusive interview, Inspector General Tinsley, the EPA's top watchdog, tells NBC News the agency simply did not have sufficient data to justify such a reassurance.

    In fact, a new report by Tinsley's office says, at the time, more than 25 percent of dust samples collected before Sept. 18 showed unsafe levels of asbestos. And the EPA had no test results at all on PCBs, dioxins or particulates in the air that can cause respiratory problems.

    Tinsley said, "The EPA did not give the people of New York complete information. It had put together press releases that were more informative than those that it ultimately released."

    So what happened? Tinsley's report charges, in the crucial days after 9/11, the White House changed EPA press releases to "add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones."

    Sept. 13: The EPA draft release -- never released to the public -- said: EPA "testing terrorized sites for environmental hazards." The White House changed that to EPA "reassures public about environmental hazards."

    Sept. 16: The EPA draft said: "Recent samples of dust ... on Water Street show higher levels of asbestos."

    The White House version: "New samples confirm ... ambient air quality meets OSHA [government] standards" ... and "is not a cause for public concern."

    And the White House left out entirely the warning "that air samples raise concerns for cleanup workers and office workers near Water St."

    Why all these changes? Tinsley said, "We were told that a desire to reopen Wall Street and national security concerns were the reasons for changing the press releases."

    When all the tests on PCBs and particulates did come in, they did not raise any red flags.

    That does not satisfy Kathryn Freed, who lives near Ground Zero and now has been diagnosed with bronchitis caused by chemicals from 9/11. She never left her apartment, and feels misled. "It did influence people to stay. I mean it kind of made me feel better. I'm, not sure I really believed it but there was part of me that said 'well, it's OK and I've just got to do what I've got to do' and there won't be health problems."

    While the EPA's Tinsley suggests that the White House misled the public, she stops short of accusing anyone of actually lying, or knowingly providing false information. And Tinsley says the EPA handled most things during 9/11 very well.

    In her first broadcast interview on this topic, former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman denies misleading anyone. "The White House never directed the Environmental Protection Agency to withhold facts or to lie to the people of the city of New York."

    James Connaughton, the head of the White House environmental policy group that changed the 9/11 press releases, agrees, saying, "We used the best information to us available at the time."

    But for Nikki Tinsley, the question lingers: Was that timely enough?

    Lisa Myers is NBC's senior investigative correspondent.
    MSNBC Terms, Conditions and Privacy ©2003
    Once again....the above views are my own and not that of my department. (And probably should not be construed as having any real meaning, whatsoever!)


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