There were 500,000 people exposed to the WTC toxins on 9/11 and during the 8 following months. Yet many people still do not realize that their place of work, school, or where they lived was loaded with 9/11 toxins. How do you know if you or a loved one were exposed?
The vast majority of people were exposed in the New York City Exposure Zone which is in Lower Manhattan south of Canal Street, or for purposes of the WTC Health Program, south of Houston Street. Thousands of others were exposed at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, or at the Pentagon, or in Shanksville, PA. Those who were in the NYC Exposure Zone must demonstrate that they were either caught in the dust cloud on 9/11 or that they were there for some period of time between September 11, 2001, and May 30, 2002. Emergency responders, recovery, or cleanup workers or volunteers directly involved in the response to the terrorist attacks at the Pentagon must have been present for at least four hours between September 11, 2001 and November 19, 2001. And those responding to the Flight 93 crash in Shanksville, PA must have been at the crash site between September 11, 2001 and October 3, 2001 for at least four hours.
But what about those with non-traditional exposure? What about the mechanics who were directly exposed to WTC debris while repairing or cleaning vehicles that were towed away from Ground Zero? What about the physicians who were directly exposed to WTC contaminates while analyzing human remains to identify victims? Fortunately, the VCF recognizes that individuals with significant secondhand exposure, who were outside the crash sites, can still contract illnesses from WTC debris. It has special policy exceptions to find these people eligible. For instance, medical professionals whose work involved handling human remains, and other claimants whose work involved repairing, cleaning, or rehabilitation of vehicles contaminated with WTC debris are eligible for compensation even if their work took place outside of a traditional exposure zone. As helpful as these exceptions are, they are very narrow, and leave stranded an alarmingly large number of people who were exposed to WTC debris outside of an eligible exposure location.
The lawyers at Barasch & McGarry continue to fight for people who don’t meet traditional exposure requirements. Our attorneys have held more VCF appeals than any other law firm, and more often than not, we have overturned denials for those with secondhand or intermittent exposure. This was the case for John R, whose claim had been denied because he never stepped foot in an eligible location. Mr. R was exposed to WTC debris in Hangar 17 of John F. Kennedy Airport. It is a little-known fact that debris from the WTC was transported to JFK airport before it was decontaminated and then shipped to various locations, including the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Despite statements from the EPA declaring the air was safe, the debris was clearly toxic, so it was stored away from the public in a controlled area of Hangar 17. John was an operating engineer who used his 80-ton forklift to aid in the decontamination of WTC debris regularly between October 2001 and February 2002. During those 4 months, he came into direct and prolonged contact with the toxic WTC debris, so it was no surprise when he started developing 9/11 related cancers 15 years later. Sadly, he was diagnosed with larynx cancer, lung cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. Attorney Trevor Taylor appealed John’s claim which led to the VCF overturning his denial and awarding him $300,000.
In another case, we represented Sarah, a woman who lived just north of Canal Street. She was eligible to enroll in the WTC Health Program (because she lived south of Houston Street), but her initial VCF claim was denied because she lived outside the VCF’s Canal Street exposure zone. We appealed her denial and appeared with her at a hearing on Zoom. The hearings are not adversarial and most of the VCF’s hearing officers are compassionate and want to help claimants. However, they have a duty to make sure that all claimants are credible and qualify under the rules of the program. In Sarah’s case she testified about the specific stores south of Canal Street where she regularly shopped, the gym that she worked out at and the church that she worshipped at. She was found eligible and she received a $250,000 award for her breast cancer.
We recommend that everyone consult an attorney before assuming that they may not have a viable claim.