Former FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano said that he’ll never forget what he experienced on 9/11.
“On that morning, 17 years ago, we were at headquarters and heard reports of an explosion at the World Trade Center,” Sal Cassano shared during an interview with former Saturday Night Live funnyman-turned-radio talk show host Joe Piscopo during The Joe Piscopo Show on AM 970 on Sept. 11, 2018.
“We jumped to our feet to try to see what was going on. Across the river, you could see the World Trade Center — it was a bright, beautiful day, clear as a bell, blue sky — and you could see the plume of smoke. I knew that plane didn’t hit that building by accident.” From that moment on, shared Sal Cassano, then a three-Star Chief Citywide Tour Commander based in Staten Island with oversight for two divisions in Manhattan, “we went to work and it was all hands on deck.”
In addition to the heroism displayed by first responders, “there are so many stories of heroism by civilians in those buildings that a lot of people don’t know about,” shared Sal Cassano, adding that each year, Sept. 11 remains a day to honor the people of America and New York City and the way they responded to the attack.
But sadly, he noted, “17 years later, we’re still fighting this war.”
In his territory alone, Sal Cassano confirmed that his team has lost 182 firefighters since 9/11 from illnesses related to their exposure to environmental hazards while they assisted at the World Trade Center, “and I’m sure that there’ll be a heck of a lot more before this is done,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking that 17 years later we’re still going to funerals. Every day we hear of a new case popping up.”
Exposure to Health Risks
Member of the FDNY aren’t alone. Exposure to the 9/11 “toxic dust” that blanketed lower Manhattan — a noxious combination of concrete, glass, metal, and other building materials mixed with highly carcinogenic contaminants such as asbestos, lead, mercury, dioxins, and more — has since been linked to a variety of serious health issues and has continued to make the events of 9/11 a cruel daily reality for so many.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, an estimated 500,000 people were exposed to environmental toxins on and after the terrorist attacks and, since 2013, nearly 10,000 known cases of 9/11-related cancer have been diagnosed, a 3,800 percent increase over five years ago. Victims have also dealt with a broad range of asthma and respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal illnesses, and more.
In 2010, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act was passed, creating the World Trade Health Center Program (to provide medical testing and treatment for responders and survivors who suffered or will experience health complications) and reactivating the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Since then, roughly 29,000 claims have been submitted and over 14,000 victims and families of victims have received compensation from the VCF, with the average dollar value of all awards amounting to more than $223,000. The largest award to-date totaled over $4.1 million and Pitta & Baione LLP successfully obtained a 9/11 VCF award totaling over $3 million for a cancer victim they represented who was exposed to 9/11 toxins while working in an office building in Lower Manhattan during the months following the tragedy.
However, while this overall level of registration and claim activity may appear to be high, it actually only represents a small fraction of the total population of affected individuals – e.g., the roughly 89,000 registrants to the World Trade Center Health Program and 29,000 claims submitted to the VCF to-date represent just 18 percent and six percent of the 500,000 people exposed, respectively. For the vast majority of exposed individuals who haven’t registered with the WTC Health Program or are unaware of the opportunities available to them to receive free medical monitoring and possible financial compensation for health issues they’ve endured or may suffer in the future, time is running out, as the current deadline to submit claims to the VCF is Dec. 18, 2020.
Individuals located in the exposure zone between Sept. 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002 are encouraged to register with the World Trade Center Health Program, get access to free medical monitoring and treatment for a condition linked to 9/11 exposure, and investigate their eligibility for financial benefits; families of those who suffered from a 9/11-related condition during their lifetime and have since passed may also be eligible for compensation.
“So many people responded and we should never forget that day,” confirmed Sal Cassano, an FDNY member since 1969 who was appointed Chief of Operations after 9/11 to help rebuild the FDNY and currently serves as an esteemed senior adviser to Pitta & Baione LLP, advising the firm on proof of presence at Ground Zero and community outreach. According to Sal Cassano, “it should be taught in schools and colleges, what happened on 9/11” — and what continues to haunt hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting victims nearly two decades later.
Time is of the essence, so take the important steps to preserve your health and investigate any VCF benefits that may be owed to you before the Dec. 18, 2020 deadline.