Will Report Jeopardize 9/11 Compensation?

A federal compensation fund for those affected was established shortly after the tragedy and paid out a total of about $7 billion to the families of those whose injuries and deaths were determined a result of the 9/11 attacks.

Another 11,000 firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers are suing the city for injuries they say were caused by working at the World Trade Center site. The claims have left rescue workers and the city embroiled in a years-long legal battle that shows no sign of reaching a conclusion soon. The city could face $1 billion or more in liability if it is found to be negligent for failing to protect workers.

Kenneth Feinberg, who was special master of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, says the effect of the Zadroga case on these cases will most likely be minimal.

Sept. 11 Dust and Health Problems

"The cases are so specific to the individual, in terms of the medical corroboration, the exposure to dust on 9/11," he says. "It's better not to draw long-term conclusions from one case about the thousands of other cases."

And Mark Bern, one of the lawyers who represents rescue workers who say their health was affected, agrees that the Zadroga case, while symbolic, will have "no bearing" on his cases.

"There are a multitude of studies to show that dust was harmful, that the air was bad" and that the air caused injury to the workers, he says.

Nonetheless, lawyers for the city of New York have already taken steps to discredit some of the injury claims aimed at the city. In May, lawyers said in court papers that a review of medical records showed that one out of every three of those claiming injury are not seriously ill -- and that hundreds may not be ill at all. "Certain plaintiffs allege injuries that could never be related to exposure at the WTC Site," they wrote.

The statements have been attacked by the claimants' attorneys.

While denying liability for the injured workers, the city and New York's congressional delegation are pushing for the federal government to reopen the compensation fund. That drawn- out battle has left many workers claiming injuries, such as Riches, bitter.

"The ultimate thing is this catastrophe happened," said Jeffrey Goldberg, a lawyer representing several hundred firefighters. "Now a lot of first responders are getting shortchanged because of a political battle between the city of New York and Washington."

A Toxic Environment

Working in the claimants' favor may be the fact that in the days and weeks after the collapse of the towers, the vicinity of the smoking pile of rubble, glass, metal and asbestos was a very unhealthy place to be.

According to at least one study, published in May 2007 in the medical journal Chest, those who inhaled the airborne cocktail of chemicals and dust at the WTC site appear to have increased their risk of sarcoidosis, a condition in which the body's immune system triggers uncontrolled inflammation. This inflammation wreaks havoc on the lungs and, less commonly, on other internal organs.

Another common complaint was severe gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, in which the acid in the stomach makes its way up the esophagus, burning the internal lining and causing significant and sometimes debilitating pain.

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