oon after the 9/11 terror attacks 15 years ago today, then-US EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman assured New Yorkers the air was safe to breathe.
Today she has issued a “heartfelt” apology, admitting that her misleading advice caused people to die. But will she also apologize for pushing lethal atomic reactor technologies that could kill far more people than 9/11?
Back in 2001, Whitman went public to “reassure the people of New York and Washington D.C. that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink.” She also said, “The concentrations are such that they don’t pose a health hazard….”
The Environmental Protection Agency itself later said there was insufficient data to offer such assurances.
The 9/11/2001 collapse of the World Trade Towers and the nearby Building 7, along with the attack on the Pentagon, coated lower Manhattan and other downwind areas with huge quantities of toxic dust. Among the components of the deadly cloud were asbestos, mercury, lead, glass, heavy metals, concrete, and countless other poisons from vaporized windows, computers, carpets, structural steel, and much much more. Clearly anyone breathing the dust that spread throughout the region was at risk.
But the Bush administration had other interests. Among them was reopening Wall Street and the stock exchange. Bush himself showed up at the site without a respirator, as did then-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. School children were brought back into the area far sooner than was safe, as were thousands of residents and workers.
To unofficial observers, the administration’s assurances were cavalier and irresponsible. “Bush, Rudy & Whitman to New Yorkers: Drop Dead,” read one angry blog in the Huffington Post.
Since then, numerous first responder and area residents have been sickened and died from 9/11-related sicknesses that were both predictable and avoidable. “I’m very sorry that people are dying, and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I’m sorry,” Whitman said. “We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had.”
Whitman’s apology has not been met with universal applause.
“I don’t believe her for one second,” said John Feal to the NY Daily News. As executive director of the FealGood Foundation, a first responders’ advocacy group, Feal is pushing the Zadroga Bill, meant to ensure health coverage for Ground Zero sufferers.
“If she was sincere she would have walked the halls of Congress with me,” Feal 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.”
“I knew the air was no good but as a first responder that’s what I signed up for,” said Rich Alles, formerly a chief with the NY Fire Department. “But what she did jeopardized the health of every school child 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 former GOP governor of New Jersey, Whitman has since signed on as a paid advocate for atomic energy. This June, she co-wrote an op ed asking for massive subsidiesto keep money-losing nukes in Illinois online.
Whitman has co-chaired the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), funded by the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry PR front. Apparently her deceptions after 9/11 have not yet caught up with her at the dying reactors whose increasingly dangerous operations she advocates.
The nuke industry’s primary focus now is to get public handouts to keep open the 100 decrepit, money-losing reactors still operating in the US. The ones backed by Whitman in Illinois were designed in the 1960s, and are dangerously embrittled. The entire US fleet is aging and increasingly subject to catastrophe. A new reactor recently opened in Tennessee has already suffered two shutdowns.
All reactors emit massive quantities of wastewater and steam, which heat the planet. They generate thousands of tons of spent fuel that cannot be managed. And they regularly emit radiation that kills and maims entire downwind populations, as did 9/11.
It’s only a matter of time before another commercial nuke explodes, like the one Soviet reactor at Chernobyl and the four US-designed GE reactors at Fukushima.
The question for Christine Todd Whitman is this: when the next reactor blows up, will you again apologize for your inexcusable role in it, as you’ve now done for your inexcusable cover-up of the health impacts at 9/11?
And if you do, who will care?