Between Rudy Giuliani’s criminal charges for his role in the Trump coup attempt and last week’s ruling by a federal judge that he’s liable for defaming Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, it might seem that “America’s Mayor” is finally being held accountable.
And yet, as 9/11 World Trade Center first responders see it, Giuliani has never been called to account for what they believe was his most destructive decision: playing along with the U.S. EPA’s declaration that the air in lower Manhattan was “safe to breathe” after the WTC collapsed.
It was not. Officials were told so at the time. But the need to get Wall Street — and New York City, generally — up and operating again trumped every other concern, including the long-term health of the multitudes who acutely risked their lives in and around Ground Zero.
On Sept. 11, 2001, more than 2,600 people died at the hands of terrorists. In the years since, thousands of more people have died from their toxic exposure to that air. There are currently over 125,000 first responder and civilian survivors enrolled in the 9/11 WTC Health Program. Over 33,000 have one or more cancers.
Incredibly, more than 20 years after 9/11 and the clean-up that went on until May of the next year, there’s still a cache of secret New York City records that document what Giuliani’s administration knew at the time.
Back in February, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY) wrote and asked current New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) to release them.
“Over six months have passed since we called on the Adams administration to release what the Giuliani administration knew about the toxins at Ground Zero while they were claiming it was safe for New Yorkers to return,” Nadler and Goldman wrote in response to a Raw Story query. “We remain unsatisfied with the City’s failure to make these documents available, which are essential to advancing medical research for those suffering with 9/11 related illnesses. Our 9/11 families can’t wait any longer. As we approach yet another year since that horrific day, we must deliver the truth for our survivors who need answers.”
Raw Story then asked Adams about the matter.
“As a former first responder who worked the site at Ground Zero, Mayor Adams is unwavering in his support of the 9/11 victims, first responders, families, and survivors,” Adams’ office said in a statement responding to Raw Story. “We are aware of requests to produce City documents on the aftermath of the attacks, which would require extensive legal review to identify privileged material and liability risk and are exploring ways to determine the cost of such a review.”
It’s ironic that the chapter of Giuliani’s life that made him the “brave” leader of a city under attack — an image the corporate media helped create, with honors such as TIME’s Person of the Year —is the very same chapter with a body count that continues to mount in plain sight.
Three days after the 9/11 attack, it was former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who told reporters that “the good news continues to be that air samples we have taken have all been at levels that cause us no concern.”
But two years after 9/11, a review by the EPA inspector general found the EPA “did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement,” as “air monitoring data was lacking for several pollutants of concern.”
Moreover, the inspector general learned that it was President George W. Bush’s White House Council on Environmental Quality that heavily edited the EPA press releases “to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones.”
Even though samples taken indicated asbestos levels in Lower Manhattan were between double and triple EPA’s limit, the Council on Environmental Quality downplayed the readings as just “slightly above” the limit the EPA inspector general found.
And when the EPA’s inspector general tried to identify who had actually written the misleading press statements, they “were unable to identify any EPA official who claimed ownership” because investigators were told by the EPA chief of staff that “the ownership was joint ownership between EPA and the White House” and “final approval came from the White House.”
“She also told us that other considerations, such as the desire to reopen Wall Street and national security concerns, were considered when preparing EPA’s early press releases,” according to the EPA’s Inspector General.
During Giuliani’s failed 2008 run for the presidency, his complicity in misrepresenting the air quality surfaced during his campaign for which his post 9/11 job performance was foundational.
In 2007, WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein chronicled the tick-tock of the Giuliani post 9/11 response along with the public assurances, such as this one from Sept. 30, 2001:
“There is a lot of questions about the air quality because there are at times in downtown Manhattan and then sometimes even further beyond that, a very strong odor,” Giuliani said. “The odor is really just from the fire and the smoke that continues to go on. It is monitored constantly and is not in any way dangerous. It is well below any level of problems and any number of ways in which you test it.”
Early on, lower Manhattan community residents and Nadler, their congressman, expressed skepticism — informed by independent testing — that that “found elevated levels of hazardous materials.”
“Nadler submitted the written report to the Giuliani administration, along with a series of memos addressing community concerns. But he says while other issues on the memos were handled immediately, air quality concerns were simply not addressed,” WNYC reported.
Giuliani even enlisted city Health Commissioner Neal Cohen to push back against the notion that the air was toxic.
“We don’t believe that there any risks here with respect to long term health effects and that occasional uptick in elevated readings that are taken with some of these with pollutants, generally those return to acceptable levels,” Cohen said in October 2001.
By then, Wall Street, which had opened back up on Sept. 17, was rebounding from a major crash.
With the World Trade Center site at the very heart of the Financial District, getting that part of the city back up and running was seen as a top economic priority even as the fires on site would continue to burn for months.
The post 9/11 World Trade Center cost/benefit analysis made by the government parallels the calculations made by the Trump administration faced with COVID. The distrust earned by the EPA all those years ago clouded its credibility in East Palestine, Ohio, when the federal agency told the residents of that Ohio town that things were OK after Norfolk Southern’s vinyl chloride disaster.
Over 19,000 young people, who at the time attended dozens of New York City public schools in the hot zone, will need to monitor their health for the rest of their lives for any symptoms from the long list of cancers, as well as digestive and respiratory ailments, linked to the toxic air. Cancers have already taken some of their lives.
To this day, when a reporter goes down to the World Trade Center site and surveys the tourists, few have any grasp of the reality that the deaths from 9/11 diseases continue to mount week after week.
More than two decades ago, had Giuliani possessed the courage to use common sense, question his own Republican Party members and act quickly in defense of his constituents breathing poison air, today’s death toll would almost certainly have been lessened.
So now, before long, you’ll likely see Giuliani in a court of law, facing comeuppance for his extensive role in attempting to overturn the 2020 election.
But it will be a good time to remember that while justice is being served for actions Giuliani took late in life, his inactions after what many still consider his greatest hour remain unpunished.