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As 9/11 anniversary approaches, responders and survivors are still at risk

August 13, 2021 | Michael Barasch

We are just weeks away from the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001, a day our nation will never forget.

We will never forget the bravery of the first responders – the firefighters, police officers, emergency medical workers, and search-and-rescue teams who saved thousands of lives as the Twin Towers were collapsing, then searched the wreckage for survivors and the remains of the fallen.

And we remember the people who returned to Lower Manhattan only days after the attack – among them office workers, residents, students, and teachers – whose resolve demonstrated to the world that Americans would not surrender to fear.

Nearly two decades later, those 9/11 first responders and survivors are confronting a very different risk: not global terrorism but the health effects of exposure to Ground Zero toxins.

Despite claims at the time by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Christine Todd Whitman that the air was “safe” to breathe, today we know that it wasn’t. Individuals who were there have a dramatically higher risk of developing 68 types of cancer and many serious respiratory illnesses.

The air in Lower Manhattan on and after 9/11 contained ground glass, pulverized concrete, benzene, asbestos, and many other harmful chemicals. It had the same pH as Drano.

People who were there continue to develop chronic and often deadly illnesses. I represent more than 25,000 first responders and civilians who have been sickened by their exposure in Lower Manhattan.

Thankfully, after years of lobbying by 9/11 community advocates, the federal government created the World Trade Center Health Program and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, providing free health care and economic security to 9/11 victims and their families.

Yet of the more than 400,000 people who were there in Lower Manhattan, only about one-fourth have registered with the health program. Even fewer have registered with the compensation fund.

Only about 8% of 9/11 survivors have registered with the compensation fund, compared with 80% of first responders.

These low registration numbers create two problems:

First, there are almost certainly many people who were there who have developed a 9/11-related cancer or respiratory illness, but are unaware of their right to free health care and compensation. 

As a result, these first responders and survivors lack access to free medical treatment that could save their lives or improve their quality of life, and must bear the enormous burden of chronic illness alone.

Second, registering with the health program and the compensation fund requires proof of presence in Lower Manhattan on or after 9/11, often in the form of work records, residential leases, or affidavits from colleagues or neighbors.

With each passing year, it becomes more and more difficult to locate these records and individuals – businesses close, former colleagues and neighbors lose contact or pass away, and memories fade.

If you were there in Lower Manhattan, you are entitled to register your eligibility for health care and compensation – even if you are currently healthy.

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, access what you are owed. Exercise your right as a 9/11 first responder or survivor. Register, and encourage your friends, neighbors, and colleagues who were there to do likewise.

If you are interested in registering with the World Trade Center Health Program or the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, call 212-385-8000 or visit today.

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