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Hillary Clinton: Assessing air quality at Ground Zero
CNN, February 11, 2002

U.S. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, are holding a Senate field hearing Monday to examine the possible health hazards stemming from the fires and dust at the World Trade Center disaster site. Clinton joined CNN anchor Paula Zahn on Monday to discuss the issue.

ZAHN: Do you think that the air downtown is as clean and safe to breathe as the Environmental Protection Agency says it is?

CLINTON: Well, Paula, that's the purpose of this hearing. We're going to try to get to the bottom of what we do know and what we don't know and what else we need to find out and what we should do about that information. I think that based on what the experts will tell us and all the evidence I've seen, the air in the general vicinity doesn't raise health hazards. The air right at the Ground Zero site, where the first responders and the construction workers have been exposed, you know, has some questions that have to be answered. And that's why I would like us to follow long term the health of the people who were really right in the center of Ground Zero. There's been a dispute between the city and the EPA and others about who's responsible for outdoor air vs. indoor air. I think we need a plan -- we've learned a lot about this terrible disaster -- that really does put the health of the workers and the residents at the very highest priority of any kind of response. But I think in general, what we know is that in most instances people really don't face any kind of a known health hazard. But we do need to keep monitoring the situation.

ZAHN: How concerned are you though, senator, that you got the U.S. Geological Survey taking surveys or taking samples at Ground Zero and actually turning over the data to the EPA? Geoffrey Plumlee, one of the scientists who took part in the study, said, "We made this analytical effort because we were concerned about the likelihood that the composition of the dust could be potentially harmful to the rescue and cleanup workers at the site and to people living and working in lower Manhattan. "We share their findings with the EPA, [Federal Emergency Management Agency], the federal emergency response coordinator and everyone else we felt appropriate. We anticipated that the results would have been shared with the people on the ground, those at risk, but it looks like the information never got to the people who needed it." Is the EPA hiding something here?

CLINTON: Well, that's what we're going to try to find out. You know, certainly they have had to respond to some very tough scrutiny in the last couple of months. And I don't -- you know, I'm not ready to point any finger at anyone. This is a breakdown of a system and maybe the lack of a system in response to the immensity of the disaster we faced. You know, we really didn't have the right equipment in the beginning for people to go on their rescue and recovery efforts. You know we haven't done the kind of thorough review that will tell us what we should do to protect people, and that's really what this hearing is about. Because I share your concern and the concerns of, you know, competing experts as well as residents and workers. Let's get to the bottom of what we know and don't know, and then let's take appropriate action.

ZAHN: Let's address some of the conflicting information here. Some independent surveys have come up with drastically different results from the EPA. ... Cate Jenkins, from a hazardous materials company, said, "For every asbestos fiber EPA detected, the new methods used by the outside experts found nine." And then Hugh Granger, a scientist at the firm HP Environmental, said, "The people at the EPA are 10 times brighter than I am. I think some people who really know the answers to all of this are being a little coy." Based on what you've been exposed to so far, is there any defense for these major discrepancies in findings?

CLINTON: ... Depending on who owned the building you were in, the standards under which they cleaned, the kind of tests that were run, we're getting different results. And I think most buildings -- certainly most public buildings -- were adequately cleaned. ... But there were many other buildings where there weren't any standards. Now we have this conflict between the EPA and the city. Who is responsible? You know, frankly, I really don't care. What I'm interested in is how are we going to assure people that the air they breathe indoors is as safe as it can be under the circumstances. And I think we've gotten kind of a mixed message here from the various levels of government. And that's what I'm trying to sort out today.

ZAHN: Sen. Clinton, before we let you go, I wanted to give you a chance to respond to a piece in the [New York] Daily News over the weekend, suggesting that the administration now has asked the [General Accounting Office] to expand its probe into alleged vandalism done by the Clinton administration. According to the Daily News, Bush aides urged the GAO to expand its investigation even into your offices that you used. Your reaction to this report?

CLINTON: Well, I was as curious as anyone when I read it. I'll just have to wait and see what the real story on that is. You know, today, I'm going to focus on air quality, but, you know, there are many other issues that are swirling around and that's one of them. And I can't understand why they're spending their time, you know, chasing red herrings and false trails, but maybe they can tell us.

ZAHN: Can you categorically deny that anybody vandalized anything in your offices before you and your husband left Washington?

CLINTON: You know, this has been investigated, and there's just no basis in fact. I don't understand what the administration's obsession with it is, but maybe they can tell us. Certainly, it's not anything that I've paid any attention to for over a year now.

ZAHN: I know you said it's been fully investigated, but can you tell us this morning -- you can tell us that -- can you assure us that nobody did anything in the nature of sabotaging your office before you left?

CLINTON: I can't even imagine, you know. There was no such -- as far as I know, there was no such action. Certainly, no one's brought it to my attention, and I just don't believe it happened.

ZAHN: All right. Well, Sen. Clinton, we appreciate you joining us today. Good luck with the field hearings. We'll be very interested in finding out the conclusion that you all come to later on this morning.


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