The dangers of asbestos contamination were well-documented long before terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001.
But immediately afterward, a number of federal and state safeguards for cleaning up hazardous materials were waived because of the state of emergency, according to a new article just published in the suburban New York newspaper Newsday.
After the Twin Towers fell, more than 2,300 clean-up workers were called in to remove debris including the toxic dust blown into surrounding buildings. Many now have developed health problems. Interviews with almost 2,000 out of the 2,332 known Ground Zero asbestos workers have revealed that hundreds weren’t properly equipped.
During that chaotic time, under pressure to work swiftly, safety shortcuts were taken exposing workers to asbestos contamination, the article states.
“People initially were using asbestos masks, but they got clogged so fast,” one worker told a reporter.
Former workers further told Newsday that they were assured it was safe to remove their masks. They ate food donated by local restaurants unaware of settling dust causing asbestos contamination to their meals. They also changed into their street clothes unaware that they were also contaminated.
Unlike emergency responders, some clean-up crews spent years working in the area and the longer exposure intensified the asbestos contamination health risks.
And while Ground Zero asbestos-removal crews are now at risk of developing mesothelioma and other cancers, there’s no guarantee they’ll have their future medical bills covered.
Mesothelioma, usually diagnosed decades after asbestos contamination, could emerge long after the free, federally funded World Trade Center health program runs out of money in 2016.
Two years ago, the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund was reactivated to help cover economic losses and out-of-pocket medical expenses incurred by workers, survivors and victims’ relatives. But that fund must pay out all of nearly $2.8 billion by 2017, officials said. After then, it’s uncertain whether Congress will renew funding for either program.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the lead agency overseeing worker safety at Ground Zero, denies that asbestos workers were ignored.
“OSHA disputes any characterization that it neglected any group of workers, including non-English-speaking workers, during 9/11 recovery operations or at any other time,” Edmund Fitzgerald, an OSHA spokesman, said in a statement.
We at Kazan Law salute these loyal patriotic workers who were put in harm’s way to do work so crucial to the nation’s recovery from that horrific day. The least we as a country can do is to make sure they have continued medical monitoring for asbestos and other work-related disease for the rest of their lives, and that provision be made to further compensate those who are unfortunate enough to develop disabling or fatal diseases, no matter how long from now that might occur.