Laborers Suffer in Wake of 9/11

In March, two Laborers were among workers who testified in Congress in support of ongoing funding of health care services for those who are ill – or may become ill – due to toxic exposures during recovery or clean-up work at Ground Zero. Some of their testimony is excerpted below.

Volodymyr Khomik

“…I am a 55 year-old member of Local Union 78 in New York. I worked for one contractor at the WTC and neighboring area cleaning up dust and debris from September 2001 to July 2002…I am a married father of two and I have not been able to work since July 2002.

“In December 2001, I started suffering from cough, lung problems and heart issues. My pulmonary examinations indicated that I had a pleural thickening and fibrosis. In addition, I was diagnosed with chronic post traumatic stress disorder and moderate major depressive disorder. I am currently undergoing regular cardiac examinations, and the doctors are watching an ongoing problem with a hiatal hernia.

“I just hope people hear our story and understand that there are still victims of 9/11 – people who jumped at the opportunity to do what is right but are experiencing devastating health issues.”

Daniel Arrigo

“…I am a 51 year-old member of Local Union 79 in New York. I worked on the rescue and recovery efforts near the WTC site from September 2001 to January 2002. In November 2001, I was trapped in an elevator and had to be treated for exposure to Benzene fumes and suffered from a lung infection.

“In 2002, I was told that my lung capacity diminished 26 percent and that I had pulmonary fibrosis and irritations of the esophagus, windpipe and sinuses. This same year, I suffered two strokes, one in April and one in June. And I had polyps removed from my windpipe and lungs. In 2004, just two years later, I was told after a visit to Mount Sinai that my lung capacity was reduced to 44 percent…

“Everyday, I use a nebulizer and suffer from lung and sinus infections and reflux. I have been advised to stop working, but in order to support my family, including three children – ages eight, nine and eleven – I will continue to go to work.

“Our guys need to get better health coverage – the system is broken for those who need it the most. We sacrificed so much because we love our country and we love New York. I’m glad there are people fighting for us in Congress. We have to make sure that federal funding for health care services is increased for those who are sick.”

p>Even if you are not now experiencing health problems related to your work in the World Trade Center clean-up effort, you must act now to protect yourself in case problems arise in the future.

Action is urgent because the deadline for registration is near. “Laborers and other rescue, recovery or clean-up workers have until August 14, 2007, to register and protect their right to file a compensation claim at a later date,” say Dr. Jim Melius, the LHSFNA’s Research Division Director and Administrator of the New York State Laborers’ Health and Safety Trust Fund (NYSLHSTF). “You do not have to have current symptoms of exposure or be ill already. But, if you don’t register now and get sick later, you will not be able to file a claim.

“Unfortunately,” he adds, “if you were exposed to the toxic air around Ground Zero, the danger of respiratory and other illness down the road is significant.”

Typically, all compensation claims must be filed within two years of an injury or illness arising out of any specific incident. Under this rule, the deadline for filing 9/11 compensation claims passed in 2004. Last summer, however – as evidence mounted that growing numbers of rescue and clean-up workers were suffering from respiratory illness that their doctors, only then, were connecting to their 9/11 exposures – New York state passed special legislation to reopen and extend the registration deadline.

“In the aftermath of this disaster,” says Melius, “the air around the clean-up site, at the Staten Island landfill and on the barges transporting waste from one to the other was highly toxic.” Asbestos particles, glass slivers, pulverized concrete and noxious gases entered many workers’ lungs. In some cases, breathing problems developed rapidly. In other cases, it has taken years. And in some cases, symptoms still are not present but may develop in the future.

“This is the nature of these types of respiratory illnesses,” Melius explains. “When microscopic particles lodge in the lungs, the lungs build scar tissue around them. As the scar tissue builds up, it impedes normal lung function. As the condition worsens, breathing becomes difficult, physical exertion is impossible, oxygen may be required and death can result.”

Data from the Mount Sinai Medical Center, which provides free, confidential medical examinations for those who worked at Ground Zero, show that almost 70 percent of responders developed some initial respiratory problems. In a report issued in September 2006, the Center noted that almost 60 percent of responders were still suffering, five years after their initial exposure. Last year, the first deaths due to toxic exposure were acknowledged. Mental health problems are an additional concern. For example, from September 2005 to September 2006, 39 percent of the Mount Sinai patients were diagnosed with chronic depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Tens of thousands of workers may eventually receive compensation,” says Melius, “but it is likely that many who will become sick are not sick right now. If you worked there, you need to register so you can file a claim if and when you become ill.”

The registration form is available online. ( All recovery and clean-up workers are covered for performance of duties between September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2002, whether paid or voluntary. You need not be a resident of New York. Anyone who filed and was denied a toxic claim after the initial two-year interval expired may file a new claim. Furthermore, even if a claim for injuries was filed, workers should register a claim for toxic exposure. The form requires dates and locations of work performed and the name of the employer or the volunteer organization. The form must be notarized and filed with the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board by August 14.

For more information about or help with the claims process, contact the NYSLHSTF at 800-797-5931. For a medical examination, contact the Mount Sinai Medical Center at 888-702-0630.

[Steve Clark]