9/11 Victims Experience Increased Number and Types of Illnesses

Derrick Mason with the Journal Standard (1) reported about first responder and retired NYC Fire Department paramedic Lt. William Gleason. William suffers from 32 9/11-related medical issues, including loss of more than 60% lung function as a result of exposure to the contaminated air at Ground Zero over 16 years ago. Gleason searched for survivors at the World Trade Center for six days straight following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He not only forfeited sleep during those intense days following the fall of the twin towers but has also sacrificed his health. 

The young ones — they have no idea how bad it really was,
They also have no idea of the sacrifice and the honor. We put others before ourselves that day and we were willing to do whatever it took.
— Lt. William Gleason, Retired Fire Department Paramedic and 9/11 First Responder

Lt. Gleason is not alone. There were approximately 300,000 residents, students and people who worked in the area along with close to 70,000 first responders, public safety workers and construction laborers who were exposed to the toxic mixture of chemicals and debris following the collapse of the towers at Ground Zero. 

A May 1, 2018 article by Northwestern Center for Public Safety (2) posted the following about the air quality at Ground Zero:

 “In the days following 9/11, the Environmental Protection Agency prematurely insisted that the air did not pose a health hazard. However, the thick dust that lingered contained a hazardous blend of particles, including glass, aluminum, and asbestos — an unimaginable amount of asbestos. The north tower alone contained up to 400 tons of asbestos.”

The CDC lists World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) illnesses on its site and recognizes close to 70 forms of cancers that are considered 9/11-related - from skin (melanoma and non-melanoma), breast, thyroid and prostate cancers to leukemia, myeloma, colon and tonsil cancers. There is a minimum time frame called a “latency period” that must occur between the initial exposure to the 9/11 toxins and diagnosis of a person’s cancer in order for the disease to be deemed eligible for coverage under the program.

Additionally, a number of aerodigestive disorders have been diagnosed in victims and survivors of 9/11. Diseases like GERD (gastroesophagealreflux disease), COPD (WTC-exacerbated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and RADS (Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome) to sleep apnea, chronic rhinosinusitis, chronic respiratory disorder due to fumes/vapors and chronic cough syndrome are just some of the illnesses suffered by those exposed to the toxic cocktail in the days, weeks and months following 9/11.

The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) is a federally funded resource that provides compensation for individuals or their family members that are suffering or have died from time spent inhaling the toxic dust and fumes at any of the 9/11 attack sites: the NYC Exposure Zone, the Pentagon and the United Flight 93 crash site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There is a December 2020 deadline to file a claim with the Victim Compensation Fund. Aaron Katersky's May 10th ABC News article (3) reports the VCF has awarded close to $4 billion to victims, including almost 14,000 first responders and 2,800 residents of lower Manhattan.  In addition to medical expenses, the VCF can cover economic losses and pain and suffering. Appeals may be filed if the VCF challenges a victim’s eligibility.

As we see increasing numbers and types of illnesses befalling this heroic community, I am acutely aware of the need to process claims as expeditiously as possible,
Each claim represents an individual life that was forever changed that day.
— special master for the 9/11 VCF Rupa Bhattacharyya is quoted in Katersky's ABC News article

The stories of volunteers, first responders and area residents falling ill seem never-ending. The ABC News article reports on Robert Jordan, a retired NYPD Intelligence officer that worked at Ground Zero on an evidence collection team, who developed both throat cancer and a gastro-intestinal disorder.

I went to a seminar and a doctor got up there and said, ‘It’s not if it’s when’,
Whether it’s sleep apnea or chronic sinusitis, you’re going to get something.
— Robert Jordan, Retired NYPD Intelligence Officer

While the numbers and types of illnesses continue to increase, a potential threat to the World Trade Center Health Program comes in the form of the Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2019. 

Ginger Adams Otis's New York Daily News (4) article outlines a potential issue to the healthcare provided to first responders and victims of 9/11 by the World Trade Center Health Program. Currently the WTCHP is housed within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) which is under the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The budget proposes to remove NIOSH from the CDC and place it with the National Institute of Health leaving the WTCHP behind within the CDC. There are concerning issues with this proposal which include NIOSH’s director Dr. John Howard, who is also the administrator of the WTC Health Program, would make the move with NIOSH along with many other employees who are shared between both programs. The possible shift is to occur during a time of renewal for specific programs within the WTCHP. New York congressmembers have written to Budget Director Mick Mulvaney urging him to change his mind.

"We were shocked and disturbed," the letter says, signed by U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler, (D-N.Y.) and Peter King (R-L.I.)

"This proposal directly contradicts the legislation Congress passed just three years ago to renew WTCHP for 75 years within NIOSH. This will unnecessarily put at risk the health of those who have been made ill by 9/11, many of whom are still suffering, and in too many cases still dying, from their injuries 17 years later," the congressmembers said.

The last thing first responders and other victims of 9/11 need to worry about is if they will get the help they need when they need it. Aside from the possibility of the WTC Health Program going through a major loss if removed from NIOSH, the VCF registration, document checklist, and claim-filing process can be a lengthy and complex procedure. Attorneys who specialize in the VCF can simplify the process for victims, help them get a qualified diagnosis, and prepare claims to yield the maximum compensation available. 

Contact us with your questions and concerns and we can discuss VCF payouts, as applied to your situation. We take a personalized approach to answering your questions and keeping you informed about the progress of your claim. Other clients say they feel better after reaching out, learning what to expect from the process, and realizing that they have people on their side who do this all day, every day.

We’ll explain the necessary steps, and what information needs to be collected at each stage. You’ll know everything you need to know about VCF payouts, without being burdened by legalese language or complex legal concepts.

Image Source: Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division. Library of Congress.

Sources for this post include:

(1)  Journal Standard, 9/11 "Still Taking Its Toll", by Derrick Mason, May 22, 2018 http://www.journalstandard.com/news/20180522/911-still-taking-its-toll

(2) Northwestern Center For Public Safety, Sixteen Years Later: The Long Shadow of 9/11 Continues to Claim Officers, May 1, 2018 https://sps.northwestern.edu/center-for-public-safety/newsletter/stories/issue6/16-years-later-9-11-still-claims-officers.php

(3) ABC News, 9/11 victims fund awards $4B amid 'increasing numbers and types of illnesses', by Aaron Katersky, May 10, 2018 https://abcnews.go.com/US/911-victims-fund-awards-4b-amid-increasing-numbers/story?id=55076551

(4) New York Daily News, 9/11 responders' health treatment and monitoring threatened by Trump’s budget plan, by Ginger Adams Otis, February 18, 2018 http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/9-11-responders-health-treatment-threatened-trump-budget-plan-article-1.3827160