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A Guide to the World Trade Center Health Program and 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Exposure Zones

July 14, 2022 | Michael Barasch

When the World Trade Center collapsed after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, ten million tons of building materials and 91,000 liters of jet fuel fell into Ground Zero, contaminating the air with toxic chemicals.

These airborne toxins included asbestos, heavy metals from computer hardware, and pulverized glass and concrete.

Many of the people breathing these toxins were union members – first responders deployed to the World Trade Center area – and workers, who soon returned to office buildings, classrooms, and job sites in Lower Manhattan.

There were also New York City, New York State, Port Authority, MTA, and federal civil servants, as well as building trades workers and contractors, both at Ground Zero and elsewhere in the exposure zone.

At the time, government officials claimed the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.

But it wasn’t. 

Within weeks, union firefighters started experiencing the “World Trade Center cough” – a persistent cough accompanied by respiratory symptoms severe enough to require medical leave for at least four weeks.

9/11 responders and survivors were later found to have a dramatically higher risk of developing 68 different types of cancer and many respiratory illnesses from their exposure to Ground Zero toxins.

A 2003 EPA Inspector General report held the agency responsible for mischaracterizing the air quality in Lower Manhattan as “safe to breathe.”

Ultimately, the federal government created the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) to support 9/11 community members with chronic health conditions.

The health program provides free, comprehensive medical care for 9/11-related illnesses. The fund offers tax-free awards for pain and suffering, lost earnings, and benefits for surviving spouses and family members.

In order to be eligible for both programs, you must be able to prove you were in the exposure zone on 9/11 or during the 8 following months. However, the exposure zones for each program are different.

For the WTC Health Program, the exposure zone includes all of Manhattan below Houston Street and parts of Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO in Brooklyn.

For the 9/11 VCF, the exposure zone is smaller – it includes the area of Manhattan south of Canal Street and west of Clinton Street.

If you were there, you have the right to register with the 9/11 VCF – even if currently healthy – and enroll in the WTC Health Program if you are diagnosed with the 9/11-related illness.

By registering and enrolling sooner rather than later, you will likely find demonstrating “proof of presence,” by finding former colleagues and work records, much easier.

Barasch & McGarry, Lawyers for the 9/11 Community, which represents more than 30,000 members of the 9/11 community, has proudly advocated for union members for more than twenty-five years.

If you were there, we can help you demonstrate proof of presence.

Visit or call 800-314-0683 today.

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