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NY Senator Clinton Asks for Investigation Into  WTC Environmental Risks - 2003-08-26

New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling for a U.S. Senate investigation into charges that the White House covered up information about environmental risks in Lower Manhattan following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

A week after the terrorist attacks the federal Environmental Protection Agency described the air in downtown New York as "safe to breathe." Now a report released by the agency's inspector general says the claim was based on inadequate testing and was influenced by the White House.

The new report says the White House pressured the agency to issue reassuring statements about the air quality and delete cautionary ones. Releases from the EPA recommended that office workers return to the area a week after the attack and minimized the risk to clean up crews at the site

Senator Clinton says the public was deceived and is owed an explanation. "I have had people come up to me and say, 'Well, what do you expect? Nobody could know.' And I said 'Right. Maybe in the immediate aftermath, the first couple of days nobody could know.' But a week later, two weeks later, two months later, six months later? Give me a break. They knew and did not tell us the truth and the White House told them not to tell us the truth," said Senator Clinton.

According to the inspector general's report, EPA officials said conditions in the downtown financial district were safe despite a lack of scientific data and downplayed concerns about asbestos levels at the World Trade Center site.

The former first lady is calling for an investigation into the matter and asking for a new federal clean-up effort at the site. "What transpired in the White House? I know a little bit about how White Houses work. I know somebody picked up a phone, somebody got on a computer, somebody got an e-mail, somebody called for a meeting. Somebody in that White House, probably under instructions from somebody further up the chain, told the EPA: 'Don't tell the people of New York the truth.' And I want to know who that is," said Senator Clinton.

The report concluded that national security concerns and the desire to reopen Wall Street, the heart of the U.S. financial system, as soon as possible influenced the agency's actions.