New York Daily News

'Secret' 9/11 lies?

2002 exec order let EPA bury info on air hazards

July 28, 2006

BY CORKY SIEMASZKO DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

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 sinister motive.

"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 The Pit.

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 considered safe.

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 Manhattan.

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.