TRENTON - Former New Jersey governor Christie Whitman apologized for declaring the air around Ground Zero safe just days after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 when she was head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Whitman told the British newspaper The Guardian on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the attacks that “I’m very sorry that people are sick. I’m very sorry that people are dying and if the EPA and I in any way contributed to that, I’m sorry. We did the very best we could at the time with the knowledge we had.”

Despite the clouds of dust that enveloped the area of the World Trade Center after their collapse, Whitman, in a statement at the time, said "I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C. that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink."

"The concentrations are such that they don't pose a health hazard. We're going to make sure everybody is safe," she said.

Whitman told the newspaper that she "cringes" every 9/11 anniversary because she knows her name will come up.

"They say that I lied and that people died because I lied, [they say] people have died because I made a mistake,” she said.

The EPA inspector general in 2003 issued a report in response to skepticism about the air concluding that the EPA did not have the data necessary to make that statement.

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