Technology & Science

Ailing Ground Zero workers sue for access to health fund

Workers who cleared the World Trade Centre site in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 have gone to court to demand payment for their health care.

Thousandsofworkers who cleared the World Trade Center site in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, have gone to court to demand payment of injury claims, most related to respiratory ailments.

Firefighters work in clouds of smoke at ground zero on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2001. Rescue workers and firefighters, alleging they've suffered ill health, are now seeking compensation in the Sept. 11 cleanup's aftermath. ((Stan Honda/Associated Press))

Lawyers who filed the class-action lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of 10,000 workers saidthe company overseeing a $1 billion US insurance fundhas so far only paid out $45,000 toa worker who fell off a ladder.

New York City officials have long said the money must first be used to litigate claims before it goes to workers, but lawyers for the plaintiffsargue the fund was created to help them, not fight them in court.

According to the suit filedin New York state's Supreme Court in Manhattan, the World Trade CenterCaptive Insurance Co. has "consistently refused to pay any of the Ground Zero workers who have become ill on the work site."

The suit alleges the company, charged by Congress with doling outmoney for treatment of people exposed to toxic dustat the site, hasspent almost $74 million US on overhead and legal bills whilefighting the workers' injury claims, violating a congressional mandate to pay those claims.

A spokesman for WTCCaptive Insurance Co. said the lawsuit —which seekspayment for lost salaries, pain and suffering, medical treatment and burial expenses —is "completely without merit."

More than 100 of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuithave died of respiratory diseases and cancers since the post-Sept. 11 cleanup.

The World Trade Center Health Registry, launched by federal and city health officials in 2003, hopes to track at least 30,000 people over the next 20 years for ailments related to breathing in the pulverized dust of falling skyscrapers.

Rescue workers report lung-scarring disease

A study of rescue workers and firefighters that was released in May linked a serious lung-scarring disease called sarcoidosis to exposure to the dust at Ground Zero.

The study, published by nine doctors, was the first to link the disease to exposure to toxic dust at the site. It found that firefighters and rescue workers contracted sarcoidosis in the year after Sept. 11, 2001 at a rate more than five times higher than in the years before the attacks.

Sarcoidosis, which can be life-threatening, causes an inflammation in the lungs that deposits tiny cells in the organs, leaving scar tissue that damage them. Several rescue workers and others exposed to WTC dust have claimed they contracted the disease from their work at Ground Zero.

Last year, doctors at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center said nearly 70 per cent of recovery workers who took part in theirsurvey reported they had new or worsened lung problems after spending time at the cleanup site.

The findings were based on medical exams conducted between July 2002 and April 2004 on 9,500 people, including construction workers, police, firefighters, transit workers and volunteers.