- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

The former head of the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to testify before a House subcommittee investigating the government’s handling of air quality and health issues at ground zero after the September 11 attacks.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary subcommittee on constitution, civil rights and civil liberties received a letter from a lawyer for Christine Todd Whitman, stating that she would be unable to testify this week, in part, because of pending litigation over the federal government’s response to the terrorist attacks.

But on Friday, she informed the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, that she “is prepared to honor your request.”

Mrs. Whitman said she is “extremely proud” of the agency’s response, and “will be pleased to answer any questions the subcommittee might have about their efforts during my tenure as director of the agency.” However, she did request that the hearing be rescheduled.

A federal lawsuit by Lower Manhattan residents accuses Mrs. Whitman of jeopardizing their health by declaring that “the air is safe to breathe” at a time when, according to the EPA inspector general, a quarter of dust samples were recording unhealthy asbestos levels. A federal judge has refused to dismiss the lawsuit; that decision is now on appeal.

Mrs. Whitman last testified before Congress in 2003 about the EPA’s response to the attacks. New York officials say about 400,000 people were exposed to ground zero dust and 71,000 have enrolled in a long-term health monitoring program for people with and without health problems.

“I am extremely gratified that at long last, after a five-plus year, sustained efforts to get at the truth, we will finally have our first chance to talk to Ms. Whitman and other principal actors involved in the federal government’s response to post-September 11 air quality, directly and on the record,” Mr. Nadler said.

A Senate subcommittee headed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, also is investigating whether tests were adequately used to examine indoor air quality in Lower Manhattan after the attacks.

“We need to examine what went wrong and assess whether the federal government is better prepared to respond to environmental hazards in future disasters,” said Mrs. Clinton, who will hold a hearing June 20.

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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