In the lead-up to the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Christine Todd Whitman, who headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the time, apologized for declaring the air in lower Manhattan safe to breathe just one week later. The New York Daily News quotes Ms. Whitman as saying, “I’m very sorry that people are dying, and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I’m sorry. We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had.”
Ms. Whitman went on to say, “Every time it comes around to the anniversary I cringe, because I know people will bring up my name, they blame me, they say that I lied and that people died because I lied, people have died because I made a mistake.”
The apology did not go over well with members of the 9/11 community. John Feal, executive director of the FealGood Foundation, a first responders advocate group that fought for the passage of the Zadroga Bill, reacted strongly. “If she was sincere she would have walked the halls of Congress with me,” he said. “If she was sincere, she could have gone to one of the 154 funerals with me. She was reckless and careless because of her words, and believe it or not, words have consequences. God’s going to be her judge.”
Steve Cassidy from the Uniformed Firefighters Association was also critical. “We knew it was toxic at the time and we did the work anyway,” he said. “Her apology now doesn’t change the fact that firefighters didn’t think it was safe even at the time, but we had a job to do, so we did it.”
Former FDNY Chief Rich Alles concurred with Cassidy. “I knew the air was no good but as a first responder that’s what I signed up for,” Alles said. “But what she did jeopardized the health of every schoolchild who returned to school in Lower Manhattan, every educator who went back to school to teach them, and every person who lived in that area who returned home to breathe in toxic dust.”
A 2003 report of the EPA’s Inspector General concluded Whitman and the EPA lacked the information necessary to determine the air was safe. However, in 2008, a panel of federal judges decided Whitman was not personally responsible for the inaccuracy of her assurances.
Our hope would be that instead of cringing every time September 11 rolls around, Ms. Whitman would show true remorse by actively supporting 9/11 survivors and their families.
If you have questions about your eligibility for Zadroga Act benefits, contact the experienced attorneys who have represented 9/11 survivors from the outset. Call Barasch, McGarry, Salzman & Penson at [ln::phone] or contact our office online.