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DenLan - Top Story B

Ex-E.P.A. Chief Defends Role in 9/11 Response

WASHINGTON, June 25 - Testifying at a Congressional hearing on Monday about the government's environmental response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Christie Whitman staunchly defended her statements assuring the public that the air in Lower Manhattan was safe in the days immediately after the attack.

Facing some of her toughest Congressional critics, Mrs. Whitman, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, repeatedly denied the critics' assertions that there had been a deliberate attempt to play down health risks or that the White House had improperly influenced statements she made in the weeks after 9/11.

She said that she was addressing residents of Lower Manhattan - not workers at ground zero - when she said a week after the attack that the air was safe to breathe. She said that the agency issued strong and repeated warnings to workers on the debris pile to wear protective equipment, but that her agency had no ability or authority to enforce that requirement.

"It's utterly false then for E.P.A. critics to assert that I or others at the agency set about to mislead New Yorkers and rescue workers," Mrs. Whitman said during her opening statement before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The hearing room was packed with recovery workers and Manhattan residents who said they had waited years for Mrs. Whitman to answer questions about the environmental and health issues related to the disaster.

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