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More Downtown students and teachers have come forward with 9/11 illnesses since Downtown Express and other media first reported about this ongoing health crisis in November. Just last month, a coalition of groups representing students and teachers gathered outside of Stuyvesant High School to continue spreading awareness of the health care and compensation that is available to anyone who inhaled the WTC toxins, which has now been linked to 68 cancers and other respiratory illnesses.
The coalition included United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew, 9/11 victims’ rights attorney Michael Barasch, and 9/11 Environmental Action Director Kimberly Flynn. They were joined by four former Stuyvesant students who have all been diagnosed with recognized 9/11-related illnesses ranging from severe breathing problems to cancer. The purpose of the press conference, and the two information forums that followed inside the school, was to educate the Downtown community — including former teachers and students — that many serious illnesses not previously associated with the fallout form 9/11 have now been linked to the toxic dust created by the WTC collapse.
Some 8,000 people have been diagnosed with WTC-linked cancers since 9/11 and more than 2,000 of those people have died (including 170 NYC firefighters).
“Not a day goes by without 5-10 people calling me with the sad news that they have been diagnosed with cancer, or that their loved one has passed away due to their cancer. It’s truly heart breaking,” said Barasch whose law firm of Barasch & McGarry represents thousands of first responders, Downtown residents, office workers, debris clean-up workers, teachers and students.
“The real tragedy is that while people continue to get sick, they don’t know that there is help out there for them,” said Barasch. “Most of those exposed to the toxins in Lower Manhattan don’t realize — especially if they have moved outside of the NYC area — that scientists have linked WTC toxic exposure to dozens of illnesses. This is most likely because the EPA Administrator wrongly assured everyone at the time that ‘the air [was] safe.’ The EPA’s assurances were meant to encourage the Downtown community to return to their jobs and apartments while the WTC fires were still raging. However, the government’s false assurances have clearly had another unfortunate consequence: it mislead the public about their right to register with the WTC Health Program and their entitlement to compensation if they are certified with 9/11 illnesses,” said Barasch. “Having heard that the air was ‘safe,’ why should people diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006, or skin cancer in 2010, or breast cancer in 2012 — or any of the many other cancers linked to WTC toxins — make the connection between their exposure in 2001-2002 and their subsequent illnesses?”
Health care and compensation not just for first responders
“Ordinary people who lived and worked Downtown on 9/11, who have gotten sick, often have no idea that they are entitled to medical treatment and possibly compensation,” said UFT president Michael Mulgrew. “We are trying to make sure that everyone who qualifies for the World Trade Center Health fund understands that they do qualify.”
Kimberly Flynn has made it her mission to encourage Downtown residents and office workers to register with the Health Program.
“The WTC Health Program is the best care available for residents and other survivors suffering from 9/11-related health problems — both physical and emotional,” said Flynn. “You will be treated at a program that has cared for literally thousands of people in the community with 9/11 health impacts. The doctors are environmentally-trained and draw on the specialized WTC medical knowledge the program has developed over many years. And you will pay nothing out-of-pocket for this expert care — no co-pays, including for prescriptions. All that is covered by the WTC Health Program.”
Those who lived or worked south of Houston Street between Sept. 11, 2001, and May 30, 2002 are eligible for health care, and those who lived or worked south of Canal Street are eligible for compensation.
Former students urge everyone to spread the word
The four students, including Lila Nordstrom, who was a Stuyvesant HS senior on 9/11 who has since started an advocacy group for former students called “StuyHealth”, spoke of their own personal experiences and urged their fellow former students to help spread the word about the WTC Health Program and the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which has so far awarded more than $3 billion to over 15,000 people.
Congress acknowledged the EPA’s mistake and it established both the Health Program and the VCF to provide awards meant to compensate victims for their pain and suffering, as well as lost income. The awards have ranged from $20,000 to $4 million. It is non-adversarial and the process takes approximately a year after your illness is certified by the health program.
“The Federal Government is trying to do the right thing,” said Barasch. “This is a lot more efficient than a risky personal injury lawsuit that generally takes 3-4 years to wind its way through the courts.”
Unfortunately, the Health Program is going through growing pains as it tries to accommodate the hundreds of applications it is getting every month. While firefighters and police officers have the ability to be seen more quickly, the Downtown community must wait longer for an appointment. But the Health Program is aware of the delays and it is trying expedite the process and reduce the wait times.
“It can be frustrating to wait” says Flynn. “But know that the program is working hard to fix the problem.”
And also remember that the deadline to file VCF claims doesn’t arrive for another two and a half years.
Everyone in the coalition agreed on what is most important now: If you have any respiratory illness or you have been diagnosed with any cancer, register with both the Health Program and the VCF as soon as possible.