Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christie Todd Whitman said in a television interview that city officials — not EPA authorities — were responsible for forcing workers to wear protective gear at the pile of debris in lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Whitman said in the "60 Minutes" interview that the EPA did not have authority over the site, and claimed she provided an accurate assessment of the air quality following the attacks. She distinguished between the air in lower Manhattan, which was considered safe, and the air near the pile of wreckage, which was not. Text and a video clip from the Whitman piece were posted on CBS' Web site Thursday.

"The readings (in lower Manhattan) were showing us that there was nothing that gave us any concern about long-term health implications," she said. "That was different from on the pile itself, at ground zero. There, we always said consistently, 'You've got to wear protective gear.'"

Many working in the wreckage did not wear masks, and Whitman conceded there may have been confusion over the message.

"It's hard to know — when people hear what they want to hear and there's so much going on, that maybe they didn't make the distinction," she said.

Her comments come days after a Mount Sinai released a study concluding that nearly 70 percent of ground zero workers suffered lung problems and many of those would likely be sick for the rest of their lives.

Early morning attempts to reach former mayor Rudy Giuliani for comment were unsuccessful.

The "60 Minutes" interview will air Sunday at 7 p.m.

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the EPA by a group of residents, workers and students in lower Manhattan who said they had been exposed to toxic materials after the collapse of the World Trade Center and other nearby buildings. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and reimbursement for cleanup costs.