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Clear the air

Other editors say

The EPA faces a credibility gap over air quality assurances after 9/11

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a shroud of smoke and dust blanketed Lower Manhattan. Although the search for survivors ' and answers ' was the most urgent priority, a local newspaper raised concerns about the dangers airborne pollution posed to thousands of residents and rescue workers.

Not to worry, said Christie Whitman, who was then head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. In various press releases and public utterances at the time, the air around ground zero was declared safe to breathe.

As it turns out, those statements were at the very least premature, and perhaps willfully inaccurate.

A new report by the EPA's inspector general found that the agency had no evidence to support its contentions. The IG also concluded that the White House, through its Council on Environmental Quality, had bullied the EPA to add assuring statements about air pollution levels and to delete cautionary ones.

— As a result, the agency is suffering from a self-inflicted credibility gap from which it will be difficult to recover.

In the meantime, it's troubling that no one has assumed responsibility for the flawed air quality reports or offered a cogent explanation of what went wrong.