Nearly a decade after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 where the World Trade Center 1, 2 and 7 towers were brought to the ground, rescue workers are still trying to obtain compensation for a wide range of workplace injuries and occupational diseases.
Heroic police, fire and EMT workers responded to the disaster with bravery on that fateful day – many working non-stop to try and find survivors. In the process, they were exposed to many dangerous toxins like asbestos and have cited these dangerous conditions as the cause for the onset of many illnesses, including cancer.
And not just rescue workers either – legions of carpenters, construction crews and day laborers worked to clean the site. As early as 2003, nearly 80% of emergency responders indicated they had at least one pulmonary symptom that developed or worsened after their work at the WTC site. Lung problems like asthma and chronic sinusitis and even post-traumatic stress disorder were reported by a vast majority of workers at the site.
Long-term health effects for the nearly 15,000 workers could include asthma, heart disease, cancer and emphysema.
While the City of New York did provide masks for the rescue workers, it was unclear as to whether the air was safe to breathe. Conflicting reports led to much confusion among the workers – especially considering the EPA declared the air safe shortly after the twin towers collapsed.
So after years of court battles attorneys for the city, construction companies and nearly 10,000 WTC workers agreed to a settlement that could pay up to $657.5 million to workers sickened by the dust from the WTC 1, 2 and 7 collapse. Workers wishing to participate in the settlement must be able to prove they were working at any site handling debris from the disaster, turn over medical records and provide other information to weed out fraudulent claims.
Also, for the settlement to be enforced, 95% of the workers would need to agree to be bound by its terms. Payments would come from a federally financed insurance company with funds of about $1.1 billion that insures the city.
The settlement comes just two months before the first trials are to begin in the case. But just when you think there’s a conclusion to the case, a U.S. District Court judge in New York rejected the settlement and ordered both parties back to the negotiating table – under his supervision.
Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein declared that the settlement was not enough to compensate the workers and their families, also declaring that he was taking “judicial control” of the negotiations and any distribution of settlement monies. He also ruled the terms of the settlement were too confusing for plaintiffs to understand, making it difficult for them to make an “intelligent decision” as to whether to participate or not.