With New Yorkers already fuming about reports
that the feds downplayed the danger of Ground Zero dust, the White
House gave EPA chief Christie Whitman the power to bury embarrassing
documents by classifying them "secret."
"I hereby designate the Administrator of the Environmental Protection
Agency to classify information originally as 'Secret,'" states the
executive order, which was signed by President Bush on May 6, 2002.
Although the stated reason for Bush's directive is to keep "national
security information" from falling into enemy hands, advocates for
thousands of ailing Ground Zero heroes are convinced there's a more
"I think the rationale behind this was to not let people know what they
were potentially exposed to," said Joel Kupferman of the New York
Environmental Law and Justice Project. "They're using the secrecy thing
to cover up their malfeasance and past deceptions."
In a series of damning editorials, the Daily News has taken the EPA and
Whitman to task for downplaying the dangers posed by toxic air and
accused Mayor Bloomberg and city officials of stiffing 12,000 ailing
Ground Zero workers.
Bloomberg has promised to look into the claims of the sick cops,
firefighters and other Ground Zero heroes. But he has refused to
acknowledge that the deaths of at least four first responders - and the
illnesses of thousands more - were directly related to their toiling in
Whitman, who resigned as EPA chief in May 2003, could not be reached
for comment yesterday. In a Newsweek interview that year, she said the
White House never told her to lie about the air quality.
However, Whitman conceded that she did not object when words of caution were edited out of her public statements.
"We didn't want to scare people," she said.
Asked last night about the executive order, a White House spokeswoman said she would have a response today.
Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Whitman declared, "There appear to
be no significant levels of asbestos dust in the air in New York City."
Then on Sept. 21, Whitman reported that "a host of potential
contaminants are either not detectable" or at a level the EPA
But on Oct. 26, 2001, the Daily News slapped "Toxic Zone" on the front
page and warned that "toxic chemicals and metals" were poisoning lower
Mike McCormick, the medic who found the now-famous tattered Ground Zero
flag - and who suffers from a host of respiratory problems - said he
never believed the EPA's claims.
Originally published on July 28, 2006