debris.jpgFormer NJ Governor and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Todd Whitman is alleging that in the days after the 9/11 attacks, she urged the city to get rescue workers and first responders to wear respirators, but was rebuffed by then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. If true, the allegations would seem to severely damage Giuliani's Presidential aspirations, as he is running on the perceived strength of his leadership in the days following 9/11/01. Whitman also wanted Ground Zero workers wearing haz-mat suits and claims to have warned city officials on a daily basis of the risks that workers were facing.

An article in The New York Times last month describes a scenario where Mayor Giuliani shrugged off experienced federal regulators and established safety precautions in order to avoid the appearance that New York City was crippled by the 9/11 attacks.

Administration documents and thousands of pages of legal testimony filed in a lawsuit against New York City, along with more than two dozen interviews with people involved in the events of the last four months of Mr. Giuliani’s administration, show that while the city had a safety plan for workers, it never meaningfully enforced federal requirements that those at the site wear respirators.

At the same time, the administration warned companies working on the pile that they would face penalties or be fired if work slowed. And according to public hearing transcripts and unpublished administration records, officials also on some occasions gave flawed public representations of the nature of the health threat, even as they privately worried about exposure to lawsuits by sickened workers.

The Times article has several interesting points. One is that rescue workers themselves often refused to wear cumbersome safety gear, feeling that it would slow them in their rescue and recovery process. There is a description of Giuliani as a "benevolent dictator" at Ground Zero, as he swept aside officials from FEMA, the Army Corp of Engineers, and OSHA while coordinating the site's cleanup. And there is a begrudgingly expressed admiration that the burning pile of rubble was extinguished and removed in nine months, rather than the estimated two and a half years it was originally expected to take. It's clearly not something that Giuliani wants to discuss, as he refused comment for the Times' article.

Just a month ago, the former EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman was refusing to appear before Congress, but then relented and said she would testify before a committee if it insisted. The EPA was widely criticized for issuing an all-clear on Ground Zero health concerns in the days following the 9/11 attacks, but a federal court immunized government officials from fallout regarding statements they made regarding air quality at that time. The ruling was issued in response to a claim brought by workers who objected to Whitman saying "the air is safe to breathe," at a time when a quarter of EPA tests showed that it was laden with asbestos. The fact that Whitman is now claiming that she was simultaneously urging city officials and Giuliani about the danger of Ground Zero air is shocking. We expect that many people's reputations will be ruined, along with the health of thousands of brave rescue workers.

(NYC: Ground Zero, by wallyg at flickr)