In 2003, the EPA Inspector General issued a scathing report outlining how the agency recast some of its public communications at the behest of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a branch of the Executive Office of the President. The report concluded that the White House had at least indirectly influenced the wording of some statements by removing cautionary language about air safety downtown. It also found that the EPA had gone beyond what it knew in making general statements about the air in the first weeks after the attacks. In particular, the report harshly criticized Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator in 2001, for telling people in New York that the "air is safe to breathe" before she had the facts to back it up.
In several instances, the documents show, officials offered assurances about air quality before they even had test results or downplayed the degree of the contamination found.
Early on Sept. 13, a day and a half after the World Trade Center towers collapsed, Thernstrom called OSHA's New York office to say Whitman was on her way to the city to talk to reporters about the agency's air testing "since all monitoring reports have been so positive thus far," according to an OSHA email.
But according to its own records, the EPA had only tested a handful of asbestos samples before Sept. 14 and didn't get the results of tests for other contaminants until Sept. 23.