Mayor Eric Adams may finally give the world a long-sought look behind the curtain of what previous New York City mayors knew about the toxic air around Ground Zero after the 2001 terror attacks.
In a letter sent to Democratic New York Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, the mayor invited their offices to discuss their long-standing request for a full accounting of the city’s actions and knowledge about the dangerous environment in lower Manhattan in the days and months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The two lawmakers have sought for years to have the city open its vault of legal and environmental documents starting with the end of Rudy Giuliani’s reign in 2001 and the start of Mike Bloomberg’s tenure in 2002.
The idea is to get a similar accounting of the revelations made by the federal government, which eventually came clean about knowing about the dangers posed by breathing the air at Ground Zero, even though they insisted people return to work in lower Manhattan.
An EPA report in 2003 harshly criticized Christine Todd Whitman, head of the Environment Protection Agency in 2001, for telling people in New York just seven days after the terror attack that the “air is safe to breathe” before she had scientific evidence to support the claim. Reporting by The Guardian and documents examined by ProPublica, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, uncovered documents about the White House’s role in shaping the information about Ground Zero contamination.
The federal memos also revealed that in place of the caution about lower Manhattan, office workers were urged to return to work on Monday, Sept. 17, 2001. “Our tests show it is safe for New Yorkers to go back to work in New York’s financial district,” OSHA’s administrator said in the final version of the release.
Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, apologized for her role in 2016 but insisted that she never lied about the air quality and repeated that she was simply passing on information given to her by government scientists.
“Whatever we got wrong, we should acknowledge, and people should be helped,” Whitman told the Guardian. “I’m very sorry that people are sick.”
Previous mayoral administrations did not respond to Nadler and Maloney’s requests, most recently including that of Bill de Blasio, who is now running for New York’s 10th congressional district, which includes Ground Zero.
For Adams, the issue may be more personal.
“As a NYPD lieutenant securing the World Trade Center on 9/11, I witnessed firsthand the ground smoldering, the demolished buildings, and the horror of that day,” Adams said, promising to sit down with the lawmakers soon to discuss the issue.
“September 11, 2001 was devastating to responders, survivors, and their families. As I stood with them then, I stand with them now,” Adams wrote.
If the mayor agrees, this would be the first time members of Congress to review the city’s files.
“The time has come for a full accounting of the history of 9/11 and the knowledge the city had about the health risks at Ground Zero and any potential cover-up of that information,” Maloney told the Daily News. “I am grateful that Mayor Adams, a 9/11 responder himself, is acting on this request and am looking forward to the briefing.”