A story published by the New York Times reports thousands of rescue and cleanup workers who were exposed to the toxic air at Ground Zero after the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center have reached a settlement agreement with the city over damage to their health. According to the Times, the city has agreed to pay out up to $657.5 million to about 10,000 plaintiffs in the case.
The settlement agreement has been in the works for about two years, taking place among a great deal of confusion and disagreement about the city’s responsibility for injured workers. The city had claimed it was immune because injuries occurred during a national emergency or civil defense situation. However, injured workers and their families argued they were employed by the city and entitled to compensation as they would be for any injury incurred on the job.
According to the Times report, 95 percent of the plaintiffs in this case must accept the terms of the settlement for it to take effect. Each plaintiff’s case will then be examined individually to determine how much compensation that person will receive, which lawyers estimate could run anywhere from a few thousand dollars to as much as $1 million. Individual compensation will depend on the severity of illness and level of exposure to contaminants at the World Trade Center site.
A variety of health screening and tracking programs were established in the days and months following the September 11 tragedy. Workers and others who simply lived and worked near the disaster site began complaining of a variety of illnesses, especially respiratory problems. There is an official World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program, as well as studies conducted by the New York Fire Department and other organizations.
Some health problems presented immediately following exposure to the site, such as respiratory distress, while others are only just showing up in those who worked at the site. It is now known that the Ground Zero site was contaminated with asbestos at levels at least two times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s “safe” level. Because of the long latency period between exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma – an average of between 10 and 50 years – the true effect of asbestos exposure may not be known for years to come.
Some of the plaintiffs involved in the current settlement are not yet ill, but fear they will develop illnesses in the future as a result of their exposure to the toxins like asbestos. According to the Times, the settlement provides a $23.4 million insurance policy to cover possible future claims.