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Class Action Suit By Ground Zero Cleanup Workers

Ground Zero Cleanup Workers Fight For Health Aid

(ENS) NEW YORK -- More than 800 Ground Zero cleanup workers who claim they became ill when exposed to toxic substances have filed a class action lawsuit against the managers, owners, controllers and leasors of the World Trade Center (WTC) complex.

The first major class action lawsuit in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center was filed Sept. 10 in U.S. District Court in New York and announced at a press conference three days later. The law firm representing the plaintiffs says many more lawsuits are in the pipeline.

"The tragic reality is that so many of the brave heroes who worked so tirelessly and unselfishly are becoming a second wave of casualties of this horrific attack," said attorney David Worby of the law firm representing the plaintiffs, Worby, Groner, Edelman, & Napoli, Bern.

Worby says the firm is handling hundreds of new inquiries from potential plaintiffs every day including groups representing thousands of potential plaintiffs in this and other related actions.

Plaintiffs include employees of the New York City Fire, Police, Transit and Sanitation Departments, Con Edison, Verizon, construction and iron workers and a number of private contractors who are suffering some form of illness as a result of their Ground Zero exposure.

The total number of people who may eventually experience adverse health effects from exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero and at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, where the debris from the World Trade Center was disposed, said Worby, could be as many as 400,000.

Worby said his firm is initiating "thousands of individual lawsuits, notices of claims and other filings" against a variety of governmental entities including New York City, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on behalf of their individual clients.

The firm will also take the initiative with legislators to facilitate the creation and funding of medical testing programs for current and future victims. Working with medical and toxicological consultants to create the proposed protocol for such testing, Worby said these recommendations within the next 30 days.

The firm estimates the likely long- term cost of such testing could be "more than one billion dollars."

"The initial collapse of the buildings and smoldering fires released a dust and vapor cloud that hovered over the immediate and surrounding areas," said toxicologist William R. Sawyer who conducted toxicological assessments on World Trade Center workers.

"Building materials continued to smolder, releasing a toxic mixture of chemicals measured by EPA subcontractors in the air at levels in great excess of those considered hazardous to human health," he told reporters.

Cement dust, glass fibers, asbestos, lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides, and polychlorinated furans and dioxins were released into the air for weeks and months following September 11, 2001.

"The variety and seriousness of the likely resultant illnesses are as unique and unprecedented as the combination of deadly poisons to which these workers were exposed," Sawyer said.

Plaintiff John Walcott is a former New York City Police detective who now suffers from a cancer of the blood. Walcott was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in May 2003. Not having a suitable transplant donor, Walcott was approved for stem cell transplant post cycle four chemotherapy. Worby's firm is representing him in a separate, individual lawsuit, the first such action it filed.

Detective Walcott was assigned to duty at the World Trade Center site on September 11, 2001. He said that he and other workers were provided with simple paper masks, and that he wore the mask for only a short time as it "just became too clogged to breathe in or out."

Walcott said that he did not receive another mask that day despite breathing difficulty, constant cough and gagging, and that there was no post-duty decontamination available that day or throughout the duration of the cleanup.

© 2004 Environment News Service and reprinted by special permission

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Albion Monitor September 23, 2004 (

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