By Jerry Mazza
Lawyers for the city and for 10,000 plus plaintiffs, i.e. the cleanup and rescue men and women who worked Ground zero, announced on June 10, 2010 that they had negotiated a new settlement, providing more compensation for health damages and to lower legal fees for services, down from 33.33 percent to a maximum of 25 percent, as per the New York Times, one quarter of the awards still a healthy handful, about $178.5 million.
Judge Hellerstein, who had rejected payouts between $575 to 657.5 million as settlement in March as too little, is now accepting $712.5 million. Okay, if you have a calculator that comes to $37 million more. Divided by 10,000 workers, that yields $3700 more per person. The average, per capita award comes to $71,250. Of course, each worker’s actual award would be determined by the extent of his or her illness, medical and prescription fees, and I would imagine family size. I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but would each award be better “enough” for each worker? Well, each worker will have to decide that by September 30, 2010. 95 percent agreement is required for benefits to begin.
By comparison, the Victim’s Compensation Fund, whose awards went to family members of 2800 victims, ranged from $400,000 to $2 million for their lost loved one, a total of $7.049 billion dollars. The awards factored in whether the victim was married or not, with children or not, age, number of working years left, salary level, and so on.
It was a cold-hearted way perhaps to evaluate lost ones, but generous in comparison to the awards for lives lost or seriously affected in ‘the second round of slaughter’, those with chronic, life-threatening conditions. This is not to belittle the 9/11 victims’ families for their awards, or the sacrifice made by their loved ones lost, just to point out a disparity.
The man who ran the VCF, “Special Master” Kenneth Feinberg, originally appointed by former Department of Justice chief John Ashcroft, was on NY1 TV a couple days ago, telling the workers that if they accepted the deal, why he’d have checks in the mail in two weeks. By the way, the proviso for receiving any VCT award was promising not to sue the government, making it a kind of hush money.
Feinberg’s colleague Judge Hellerstein has seen to it that in all these years no family (to my knowledge to date) has received a trial, even if they didn’t want to take the money. Instead, victim families were encouraged “to move on” and stow the cash.
Mrs. Ellen Mariani, who wanted a trial for her husband Neil, lost on UA F 175, and who brought two suits against the government, had her suits dismissed because their trials she was told would “endanger national security,” which sounds more like an attempt to cover up any wrong doing on the government’s part. In fact, she’s still waiting a trial or financial reward. Both she and her lawyer are under gag orders not to speak. Remember her if you will in your prayers if nothing else.
Also, the Airline Transportation Safety Act (ATSA) actually paid out a total of $15 billion to the airlines in loans and cash for losses sustained in their businesses, though the airline bigs we know will never go hungry. Not like working people with more bills than they have assets.
Unfortunately, the GZ workers, these men, these women, who worked in the pit, et al, had to sue the city and its contractors six years ago for the grave illnesses they had suffered, including cancers, respiratory and glandular diseases. These were a result, in part, of not having been given respirators to protect them against the deadly chemicals in the air, earth and debris, nor having proper supervision about protecting themselves. They were walking around with or without paper nose-mouth masks.
One major reason for that was that both the EPA and FEMA had said that the Ground Zero site and surrounding environment they were working in was safe, when in fact it was loaded with a cocktail of deadly chemicals, as follows…
“Over 400 tons of asbestos, which once inhaled in any quantity cannot be expelled by the lungs
“90,000 liters of jet fuel containing benzene, a carcinogen that suppresses the immune system and causes leukemia
“Mercury from over 500,000 fluorescent lights that is toxic to the nervous system, and damaging especially to the kidneys
“200,000 pounds of lead and cadmium from personal computers, toxic to the respiratory track, especially damaging to kidneys
“Polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons that cause lung, laryngeal and throat cancers
“130,000 gallons of transformer oil with PCBs, causing serious skin rashes and liver damage
“Crystalline Silica from 420,000 tons of concrete, sheetrock and glass (tiny particulates that lodge in heart, causing ischemic heart disease),” and so on…
The facts and more come from film-maker Heidi Dehncke-Fisher’s landmark documentary Dust to Dust: the health effects of 9/11. I reviewed this affecting, truth-telling film in a piece called 911’s second round of slaughter. And that’s exactly what it was.
To follow the lives of EMS workers, firemen, police, volunteers, as Dehncke does, to see the slow ebbing of strength and will to live in fearless men and women, to see them morph into weary, despairing people, fighting with insurance companies for monies for life-sustaining medications and/or hospital care, is heart-breaking. Consider that for the survivors to this date. They still face on-going, life-threatening conditions, with new symptoms surfacing from time to time.
For instance, the Philadelphia Inquirer recently ran a story, 9/11 responders now suffering loss of smell. Its subhead read, “Chronic condition represents a ‘breakdown in the body’s defense against toxic substances’”
It told about paramedic “Mike Greene, who at first thought it might just be a bad allergy.
“But when his sense of smell didn’t come back for months, the paramedic suspected it was caused by polluted air he’d breathed at the most harrowing job site of his career: the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
“Turns out he is not alone.
“A significant portion of those on duty at the twin towers suffered long-term damage to their sense of smell and their ability to detect harmful irritants through the nose, Philadelphia researchers reported in a new study last week.
“Far from being just an inconvenience, this chronic condition represents a breakdown in the body’s defense against toxic substances, said lead author Pamela Dalton, an experimental psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center.
“In a sample of 102 workers in construction, emergency services, and other fields, 22 percent had an impaired sense of smell more than two years after exposure at the twin towers site, and 74 percent had a reduced ability to detect irritants. That ability is separate from the sense of smell, and is illustrated by the burning sensation you get from say, the noxious fumes in a bottle of bleach.”
Now this is going on nine years later. What does tomorrow bring for these men and women who gave selflessly, working under furious pressure from Mayor Rudy Giuliani to work night and day to get what was America’s worst ever crime scene scrubbed clean in eight months, not the two and a half years he had to do it. And to help America’s mayor get his brownie points for destroying the evidence, and in the process helping to destroy the lives and health of these heroes.
Another recent loss: On May 15, 2010, Robert Oswain of the New York Police Department died from cancer, after serving in recovery efforts at the wrecked World Trade Center. If you want a taste of it, read Christopher Bollyn’s powerful article complete with photographs of what Robert and his 10,000 brothers and sisters went through.
The opening paragraphs tell us, “Robert Oswain, a police officer with the New York Police Department (NYPD), died from cancer on May 15, 2010. Oswain, a Bronx cop who served in recovery efforts at the destroyed World Trade Center, died of cancer late Saturday. He was 42 years old.
“Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly commended Oswain, who had recently married, for his ‘valiant struggle’ against the disease. Oswain’s family and NYPD brothers believe Ground Zero’s toxic dust caused the cancer that claimed his life, the Daily News reported.
“Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (NYC PBA) President Patrick Lynch called Oswain ‘one of the forgotten heroes of 9/11’ – and warned that the true cost in lives from the attacks won’t be known for decades. The NYC PBA has a webpage devoted to Oswain in which he described what he did at the World Trade Center in the aftermath…” Check out this story for a bitter taste of what it was really like.
Bottom line, brothers, sisters, you who have suffered and suffer still, I ask you to think clearly if this settlement is what you want, if it truly protects you, and if this is what you and your families can live with? Because once you sign on the dotted line, it’s over.
What’s more, as mentioned earlier, 95 percent of you have to approve this offer by September 30 for it to take effect. I’m not saying do or don’t sign. I’m saying think it out clearly. Don’t be pressured. Stick together. Remember your lawyers are still getting a healthy cut. Search you conscience and make up your own mind what’s best for you. Good luck, bless you all. You are the best of people.