9/11 compensation still in limbo

A $657.5 million settlement reached between the city and 9/11 rescue and cleanup workers on March 11 must be renegotiated, a U.S. District Court Judge said.

Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein rejected the proposed settlement on March 19 and stated, in court, that he did so because the settlement did not offer enough compensation to the workers for the illnesses they have suffered since they worked at or near Ground Zero.

Hellerstein added that he – as opposed to a claims administrator – would supervise any new renegotiation and that the lawyer’s payout, about a third of the settlement, should come out of the same fund that will pay the lawyers for the city, leaving more for the injured worke

“I think the grounds on which [Hellerstein] rejected [the settlement] was strong,” said Daniel Coates, an immigration organizer at the community group Make The Road New York, who has worked with many Queens-area cleanup workers. “But now the process will take longer given the dire situations some of these workers find themselves in.”

According to reports, close to 10,000 workers took part in the lawsuit against the city. These workers claimed that because of the toxins and chemicals – such as cement, glass dust, asbestos, fiberglass, alkaline, and lead – in the air at Ground Zero, they developed respiratory problems including asthma, sinusitis, rhinitis, persistent cough, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, as well as lung scarring, lung cancer, gastrointestinal tract cancer, heart disease and mesothelioma.

As of March 31, 2009, more than 51,000 World Trade Center (WTC) responders nationwide had met eligibility and enrolled in the World Trade Center medical monitoring and treatment programs, according to Fred Blosser, a National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) spokesperson.

Some of these workers have had to quit work because they are too sick. As of September 11, 2009, at least 817 had died….

Following Hellerstein’s rejection of the settlement, New York Congressmembers Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, authors of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act – a stand alone bill not part of the Affordable Health Care for America Act passed by Congress on Sunday, March 21 – reacted.

“The uncertainty surrounding the settlement demonstrates yet again the urgent need for Congress to pass the Zadroga Act, which would provide guaranteed health care and an estimated $6 billion in compensation for those who lost their health as a result of the 9/11 attacks,” Maloney and Nadler said. “We have a moral obligation to help those who were injured or made sick by the attacks on our nation.”

Local Queens cleanup workers and their advocates look forward to the new agreement.

“The first settlement was a step forward,” said Coates. “We hope the second settlement will be better.”