Friday, February 03, 2006

New York's Air Quality After 9/11/01: What EPA Administrator Whitman Knew & When She Knew It

"From day one, it was obvious that they were lying to the people of New York when they started saying within two days after the disaster that the air was safe to breathe and the water was safe to drink, before there was any data to indicate it,” Representative Jerrold Nadler said of Thursday‘s decision by a judge to allow a class-action lawsuit against the EPA and (former) EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

Christine Todd Whitman said it after there was data to indicate it, Congressman Nadler, and in some television news vault is smoking gun videotape proving it. Videotape of a conversation that took place on a New York street between then-EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and an EPA technician collecting samples around the WTC site. Neither knew that what they were saying was being captured on camera and being broadcast to the world.

It happened on September 14, 2001. The day that President Bush first appeared at ground zero in NYC with a contingent of cabinet secretaries and delivered the "I can hear you, all the world can hear you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear us all soon" speech.

Once the protocol of the President being the first federal government official to survey the scene had been met, current and former congressional leaders poured into New York where they fanned out over lower Manhattan. News organizations sent camera crews to follow their movement as they made their way through the streets leading down to the smoking mass that had been the WTC. They covered all of the different access routes around the WTC, following the mobs that included the politicians surveying the destruction left by the attacks of 9/11/01. Broadcast news organizations set up cameras at various street locations all around the perimeter streets that led into the WTC’s smoldering ruins. It was one of these cameras (I think it was C-Span’s), placed near one of the stationary air monitoring stations that the EPA had established to collect samples in the area, that caught it. The “smoking gun.”

Throughout the coverage of the day’s events, the cameras on these NY side streets in lower Manhattan were left on to capture and broadcast the scene and people moving throughout the area. After interviews with government officials had been conducted, the cameras were left in Live Cam mode, showing people walking around the neighborhood of the tragedy. People would gather around when some Bush administration official or other politician stopped in front of the camera to be interviewed. But as soon as the interview was over and the politician moved on, so did the people who had been watching. The cameras were primarily recording a very eerie silence and desertedness that had settled over the neighborhood around the site.

When Christine Todd Whitman passed by this one particular camera on her way around ground zero and lower Manhattan, she, too, stopped to be interviewed. And it was after this interview that Whitman, unwittingly, had a candid and revealing conversation with one of her employees. As soon as her interview on the street ended, the people on the street who had stopped to watch the interview moved on leaving Whitman alone on the sidewalk. At least in the immediate camera shot it appeared that the street was deserted, save for someone walking past the camera on the other side of the street now and then.

I don’t think that Whitman realized that the camera was still broadcasting once she finished the interview and everyone had dispersed. I think she presumed that they were off the air. So that when one of her employees, a technician collecting and monitoring samples, appeared nearby looking into a monitoring device, Whitman approached him to discuss his findings. She asked what he was picking up on his equipment. I'm paraphrasing here, but he shook his head somberly and said that everything, all of the readings that they were getting, were "off the charts."

Just moments earlier, Whitman had been talking into a television camera and telling the world in a sincere and reassuring tone that the EPA would be working very closely with NYC officials to keep citizens aware of everything they learn, and of the President’s and the EPA’s deep concern and commitment to protecting the health of New Yorkers.

So you can imagine my surprise when Whitman’s response to the EPA technician collecting and monitoring samples around ground zero was to keep those readings to himself and to not tell anyone.

In some television station’s news vault (probably C-Span’s or CNN’s) is a videotape of an interview on 9/14/01 with Christine Todd Whitman. On a street in lower Manhattan. And what she said after the interview, to an employee, when she thought nobody was listening.

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