Christine Todd Whitman attends Making Strides: Advancing Women's Leadership - Opening Reception at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on Nov. 17, 2015 in Miami, Florida.
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September 10, 2016 1:21 PM EDT

Christine Todd Whitman, who led the Environmental Protection Agency at the time of the 9/11 terror attacks, apologized in a new interview for previously saying the air around Ground Zero in New York was safe to breathe.

Whitman had not previously apologized for her statements in 2001 assuring the public that the air around the World Trade Center was safe. Many first responders and others who lived and worked in the area have since been diagnosed with chronic respiratory illnesses or cancer related to their exposure to toxins released at Ground Zero. More than 37,000 people registered with the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) have been declared sick, the Guardian reported.

“Whatever we got wrong, we should acknowledge and people should be helped,” Whitman said in a recent interview with the Guardian for a report that will be published on Sunday, the 15th anniversary of the attacks.

“I’m very sorry that people are sick,” she said. “I’m very sorry that people are dying and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I’m sorry. We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had.”

Whitman said she never lied but was not aware at the time of the dangerous pollutants in the air. In the days and weeks after the attacks, Whitman told New Yorkers that the air was safe to breathe and the water was safe to drink, and she advised those working directly at the site of the World Trade Center wreckage to wear respirators.


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