In an exclusive interview, Cate Jenkins. Ph.D., tells The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith that wasn't so, and EPA officials knew it, but covered up the truth.
Many workers who sifted through the wreckage have since come down with serious respiratory illnesses.
On Sept. 13, 2001, then-EPA head Christine Todd Whitman told reporters at ground zero, "We have not seen any reason — any readings that have indicated any health hazard."
Asked by Smith if EPA officials lied, Dr. Jenkins responded, "Yes, they did."
Though Dr. Jenkins didn't personally conduct the research at ground zero, it's her opinion that the EPA knew the dust there had asbestos and PH levels that were dangerously high.
"This dust was highly caustic," Dr. Jenkins told Smith, "in some cases, as caustic and alkaline as Drano."
Dr. Jenkins added that the agency said "nothing whatsoever" about the alkalinity of the dust.
She wrote memos accusing the EPA of lying.
In response to Smith's questions, the EPA issued a statement saying: "Top EPA scientists spent thousands of hours collecting, reviewing and analyzing samples from ground zero. Dr. Jenkins has not participated in any aspect of the EPA's work on the World Trade Center and is not an agency expert on the EPA's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."
Still, Jenkins says she's studied the research and, "At least in some measure, I believe (the EPA and its scientists who tested the air at ground zero) are" responsible for the health problems suffered by ground zero workers.
In an interview to air on 60 Minutes Sunday night, Whitman, the former EPA head, tells Katie Couric that, when EPA officials said the air was safe, they . Whitman added that the agency warned ground zero workers to wear protection. She said her agency didn't have the authority to order them to wear masks, but New York City officials did.