While the direct impact of 9/11 occurred within a 1.5-mile stretch of land surrounding the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, few may be aware of the important role played on the water by brave members of the U.S. Coast Guard following the attack.
According to an oral history of that fateful day shared by U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral James Loy, the collision of two planes into the towers left hundreds of thousands of people stranded on the southern tip of the island, unable to escape by bridge. With streams of frightened people converging on Battery Park in a desperate attempt to flee the area, Loy and Coast Guard officers oversaw a process by which “all available boats” were requested to respond to the area to help. Over the course of nine hours and with the support of both the Coast Guard’s large fleet of waterborne assets and numerous public and private vessels, some 500,000 people were rescued in an evacuation effort that Loy described as “bigger than Dunkirk” (the WWII event during which 338,000 British and other Allied troops were evacuated from Dunkirk, France to England as German forces approached) and which experts deem the largest maritime evacuation in world history.
In the days following the attack, Coast Guard officials continued to provide critical and ongoing first responder support by remaining on guard to protect the area from other feared attacks and working tirelessly to secure U.S. ports and restore infrastructure so that commerce could resume in the northeast.
Their bravery and dedication may have come at a price, however. Located in the 9/11 exposure zone, Coast Guard employees working on the water and at nearby maritime outposts as well as those Coast Guard employees who worked in Port Authority offices in the North Tower and were victims of the attack themselves were all potentially exposed to 9/11 environmental hazards. Exposure to this “toxic dust” — 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.
Exposure to Health Risks
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 3800 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 more than 14,000 victims and families of victims have received compensation from the VCF, with the average dollar value of all awards amounting to over $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 30th, 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.
This absolutely applies to Coast Guard Workers, an “enormous(ly) courageous team who rushed to the danger rather than rushing away from it,” said Richard Larrabee, director of the Port Commerce Department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who was personally involved in 9/11 response efforts.
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.