Democrats Ask for Investigation of Former EPA Director on 9/11 Health Issue
WASHINGTON Democrats from New York and New Jersey asked on Wednesday for an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christie Whitman for breathing problems suffered by thousands after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Whitman told The Associated Press that she and the EPA "agreed then and I reiterate now that the air on the WTC site was not clean -- the consequence of millions of tons of burned debris from the most horrific attack in our nation's history.
"We were emphatic that workers needed to wear respirators, a message I repeated frequently."
At hearings last week in New York, Whitman was the most frequent target of lawmakers who charged that ground zero workers were not protected as they worked to clear the pile of toxic debris.
Whitman, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, declared in the days after Sept. 11 that the air in lower Manhattan was safe for workers and residents. But she has said she and the EPA always differentiated between the air quality in lower Manhattan and at ground zero.
Former Sept. 11 Commission chairman Thomas Kean, also a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said it was troubling that the Democratic congressmen "would misuse the heroic service of thousands for their political gain in an election season."
The congressmen -- New York Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Anthony Weiner and New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. -- said the health of their constituents, and not politics, was their concern.
In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the trio accused Whitman of "endangering the lives of thousands of people."
Weiner said, "Only with the appointment of a special prosecutor with subpoena power can an independent investigation occur and, if necessary, criminal charges be brought against those responsible."
Pascrell said it was "morally incumbent" upon Gonzales to appoint a special counsel. The Democrats want the investigation to look at other government officials as well, but did not specify anyone other than Whitman.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kathleen Blomquist said the agency had not yet received the letter.
Separately, Whitman and the EPA are being sued by residents, workers and others over health issues. Last week, Mount Sinai Medical Center released the results of a study showing nearly seven of every 10 ground zero responders suffered lung problems.
Source: Associated Press