Courage, Honor, Sacrifice

Claude Solnik wrote an in-depth article for the Long Island Business News entitled Still Counting: 9/11’s toxic legacy haunts first responders which details the course 9/11 set for so many first responders, rescuers, residents, students and workers following 9/11. That course was one that began with many jumping into action and coming together after our nation’s most traumatic event. Countless first responders set about searching for survivors and then later the remains of the close to 3000 who lost their lives at the terrorist attack sites-which included the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville Pennsylvania. The path has not ended for tens of thousands who were exposed to a toxic cocktail of dust and debris that resulted from the impact of the jet planes with their targets, lack of protection and the go ahead to resume regular schedules in unsafe environments close to the attack sites. 

You’re talking 220 stories of office building on top of the other buildings that collapsed, with computers, fluorescent lightbulbs, phones, desks, metal chairs,
All of that was incinerated into pure dust. All we found was concrete, steel and rebar. You didn’t find a telephone, a lightbulb, a chair. Nothing.
— Michael O’Connell, a 25-year-old firefighter on 9/11

A firefighter, John McNamara spent 500 hours at Ground Zero performing rescue and recovery efforts starting on September 11, 2001. Five years later, in 2006 McNamara was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer which was later certified by the World Trade Center Health Program to be directly linked to the carcinogens he inhaled at Ground Zero.

He was in the firehouse. He was incredibly healthy. He didn’t smoke or drink,
He was in the firehouse one day, eating chicken salad and he got very, very sick. The pain was so severe he had to go home for the day.
— Jennifer McNamara, John McNamara's wife

Jennifer McNamara was four months pregnant when the doctor had to give them John’s terrible diagnosis. “she told us what she suspected,” McNamara said. “Less than a week later, we were at Memorial Sloan Memorial Kettering when the biopsy came back positive.” He had stage four colon cancer which had metastasized to his liver and stomach.

Following 9/11, the nation united in an effort to heal as well as to demonstrate strength and determination in the face of evil. Leaders such as NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and President George W. Bush were dedicated to having New York get back to business as usual. The stock market opened one week following the terrorist attacks. Students resumed classes within a couple of weeks and many went back to work just blocks from the still smoking Ground Zero. 

The city of New York was granted a waiver from Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations that could have protected many who were exposed to the still dust-filled and toxic air in Lower Manhattan and the Environmental Protection Agency prematurely gave the go-ahead for students, workers and residents to return to their jobs, school and life as normal.

Some of the decisions made were not necessarily health-based,

Other factors were at play. Now that we know what we know, people should not have been in the area. They didn’t require enforcement of OSHA laws at the site. The city got an exemption,

It wouldn’t fall under the standards that it normally would. From a health perspective, they should have made sure it was safe for everyone on the pile for months.
— Dr. Jacqueline Moline, director of the Queens World Trade Center Clinical Center

As a result of the rush to return to normal, countless were exposed to and are now suffering from the decision to ignore the evidence gathered by the EPA.

Many of the first responders coming in now tend to be sicker than those early on,

We’re seeing them coming in with different diseases or diseases they’ve had for many years. We’re seeing a number of cancers.
— Doctor and World Trade Center Clinic Director Jacqueline Moline

Solnik reports that “A Government Accountability Office report concluded 400,000 people were exposed to toxins as a result of 9/11; about 90,000 are enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program.” The World Trade Center Health Program is the organization which provides free health care services to eligible victims, and also establishes eligibility for those seeking financial compensation. Numerous types of cancers which are developing at different rates, as well as other 9/11 related illnesses are affecting countless individuals. 

John Feal is a 9/11 first responder who not only spent time on the pile at Ground Zero, but was also injured there. Feal is a dedicated advocate for 9/11 first responders, victims, survivors and family members. He created the 9/11 Responders Remembered Memorial Park in Nesconset, Long Island. John fundraised, managed to get the land for the park donated for a dollar, and personally contributed $130,000 to create the park-a place for people to heal and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s going to get worse,” Feal said. “We’ve seen an increase in people getting cancer and dying. We haven’t even hit the next wave of cancers, the asbestos cancers.
They were giving everybody Home Depot masks. I was there for 5½ days. I didn’t wear a mask once,
I know people who were there a day or two and are dead. I know people who were there four, five, six months and there’s nothing wrong with them. Everybody’s immune system is different.
— First responder and 9/11 advocate, John Feal

The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund was set up to cover medical benefits, economic losses and pain and suffering. To be eligible for compensation for any 9/11-related health issue, you must have lived, worked, attended school, or otherwise spent some period of time in the Exposure Zone in Lower Manhattan, the Pentagon or the Shanksville, Pennsylvania site between September 11, 2001 to July 31, 2002.

The article quotes Rupa Bhattacharyya, the Victim Compensation Fund Special Master speaking about modifications to claims as new illnesses develop for those already in the program.

The program has a very liberal amendment policy,
If you suffer new conditions or a new loss or become disabled, you can ask for additional compensation.
We don’t handle responders and residents differently,
We’re compensating for loss. People suffer the same loss whether they’re responders or they happened to live in the area
— Rupa Bhattacharyya

The 9/11 VCF deadline for filing a claim is December 18, 2020. Close to 12,000 first responders and nearly 2,500 residents and workers have been compensated so far with an average of $220,000 for personal injuries and $720,000 for deaths. The death claims range from $500,000 to $4 million.

Everybody’s case is individual. The only thing they all have in common is they’re affected by 9/11 and its aftermath,
There’s not enough money in the world to make these people the same they were on Sept. 10. I think everybody would rather have their health back.
— John Feal, 9/11 First Responder and advocate

Photo source @9/11WTCPhoto via Flickr

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