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LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“All Americans will forever remember the horror of that day and exactly what they were doing when they first saw the destruction,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “We will never forget.”

Among those who lost their lives on 9/11 were six Laborers working construction on a site that became part of the hallowed ground.

Though seared in our memory, the full impact of the tragedy at the World Trade Center (WTC) remains unknown, even as this month’s 10th anniversary approaches.

9/11 Memorial and Museum


O’Sullivan points out that many Laborers were among those that served long hours in recovery and clean-up operations in the months following the attacks. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that they, like thousands of others, endured toxic exposure in their work, jeopardizing their future health and financial well-being. Like other affected rescuers, responders, residents and workers in the area, they must continue to monitor their health.

Meanwhile, after years of struggle, the federal government last year established the $2.8 billion Zadroga Act to compensate those with health problems associated with 9/11. Although Dr. John Howard, WTC Program Coordinator (and NIOSH Director), ruled in July that there is not yet enough evidence to support cancer claims, most other health concerns are covered by the Act.

[This update was added on September 6, 2011.]

New Study Lends Support
To Cancer Coverage

Released to the media on September 1, a study published in the September 3 issue of The Lancet indicates an increased risk of cancer among Firefighters who participated in recovery operations at Ground Zero.

In a commentary published alongside the study, Dr. James Melius – the LHSFNA’s Research Division Director, the Administrator of the New York Health and Safety Fund and chair of the Steering Committee for the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program – writes that this heightened risk supports “careful consideration of the addition of cancer to the medical disorders covered in the programme. Waiting to do so until definitive cancer studies have been completed (probably many years from now) would be unfair and would pose a hardship for workers who willingly risked their health by responding without hesitation to the WTC crisis.”

Ten years after the terrorist assault, 9/11 still exacts a mighty toll. Since March of this year, 1,655 additional responders and community members have enrolled in WTC health programs, bringing the total to 60,270. These include more than 15,700 members and retirees of the New York Fire Department (NYFD), nearly 35,000 responders from the New York and New Jersey areas, 4,500 rescue and recovery workers from around the nation and more than 5,300 downtown residents, students and office workers.

Only a portion of these enrollees are now ill. The purpose of enrolling in these programs is just as much to register for possible claims of future illness as to gain treatment for current illness. Yet, according to Dr. David Prezant, the NYFD’s chief medical officer, about half of that department’s 15,700 registered personnel have symptoms of respiratory disease and about 70 percent suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Among fire personnel, pulmonary fibrosis has been seen at 300-400 percent of the normal rate, and two individuals have required lung transplants. Forty cases of sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease, have been diagnosed. Overall, on-going and yet-to-be-diagnosed 9/11-related illnesses are significant health concerns.

Others paid the ultimate price. In total, about 3,000 people died as a result of 9/11. One hundred eight-four were killed in the crash at the Pentagon and 48 in Pennsylvania where passengers managed to crash the hijacked Flight 93 before it reached its intended DC target. At the WTC, 2,753 were killed, including a handful who have been added to the toll after they died in later years of illness acquired on the day of the attack.

The Zadroga Act requires Howard to reassess the medical evidence of 9/11-caused cancers within a year of his July ruling. With the three additional studies soon scheduled for publication, he may conduct a quicker reassessment.

“LIUNA worked hard for adoption of the Zadroga Act,” says O’Sullivan, noting the many years of delay in its passage. “It has eased anxieties for Laborers and others who rose to the challenge of that very difficult time. Knowing that any necessary care is covered and, therefore, that their families’ financial security is protected, relieves pressure and aids recovery of good health. It was, simply, the right thing for the nation to do.”

While the resolution of the issue of cancer coverage remains an important step in the healing of Ground Zero’s wounds, 9/11 will always be inscribed in the nation’s memory. This September 11, the nation – and the world – will observe a moment of silence for all the victims of this unspeakable tragedy.

[Steve Clark]