July 16, 2004 -- An Environmental Protection Agency memo claims city and federal officials concealed data that showed lower Manhattan air was clouded with asbestos after the World Trade Center collapse.

And officials sat on the alarming information even as they told the public it was safe to return downtown, the internal memo says. Testing by the city Department of Environmental Protection showed the air downtown had more than double the level of asbestos considered safe for humans, claimed federal EPA environmental scientist Cate Jenkins, who supplied the memo to The Post. The data, which Jenkins says she culled from state records, appear damning. On the day after the attack, the memo claims, city test results from the corner of Centre and Chambers streets and from the corner of Spruce and Gold streets showed asbestos concentration at about twice the level considered safe by the EPA. The city did not release this information to the public, Jenkins says. The next day, Sept. 13, city tests were "overloaded" with asbestos in the air so much that the lab could not conclude precise amounts along Church Street.

Again, the information was withheld, the memo claims. When the city published the test results for the weeks following 9/11 on its Web site in February 2002, there were 17 instances where the data was either understated or left blank, Jenkins asserts in her report. "New York City could wiggle out of the [claim of] concealment, because they weren't making any explicit statements about data at the time," Jenkins told The Post. "But the EPA can't wiggle out of this. They said the air was safe at the same time they were coordinating data with the city." To drive her point home, Jenkins compares statements made by the EPA on the same day test data was showing dangerous levels of asbestos. On Sept. 18, then-EPA administrator Christie Whitman said the public in lower Manhattan was not being exposed to "excessive levels of asbestos." That same day, city testing data, some of which was later made public, showed asbestos levels 50 percent higher and more above what her agency considers safe, the memo states.