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Breakthrough in the offing for Ground Zero exposure victims

Eleven years after their lives changed forever, construction workers who helped "unbuild" the World Trade Center, the firefighters and police who worked alongside them, and the people who lived nearby are about to get long-awaited news. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is expected to finally recognize that as many as 50 types of cancer were caused by exposure to the dust and debris from the wrecked buildings. NIOSH is responsible for determining which illnesses are covered under a $2.77 billion federal Victim Compensation Fund. News of the impending announcement was first reported by the New York Post.

At first the government would not cover cancer because it said there was no scientific evidence linking the toxic ruins to cancer. Victims were outraged. At least 400 people have died from cancers thought to be associated with working on the pile. Another 40,000 first responders and 20,000 nearby residents still receive medical monitoring and treatment. Those medical expenses are  covered by the federal James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The Victim Compensation Fund has been on hold while NIOSH examined the cancer links.

When NIOSH announces which cancers will be covered by the compensation fund, the government can start writing checks. But the money will be parceled out slowly. For the first five years, the Special Master who runs the fund can only hand out $875 million. In year six, people with valid claims will be able to get a piece of the remaining $1.9 billion. However, it does not appear that any new money will flow into the fund, so the payouts will be determined by the amount available and the number of valid claims.

While this is good news for many of the victims who were covered with asbestos, chemicals, volatile liquids, and thousands of other unknown substances, it is too late for others. Some are already on the verge of death and may not live long enough to make a claim. Others may not get sick until long after the fund is depleted. Advocates for the exposed workers say Congress should refill the fund's bank account for as long as necessary with as much money as necessary to address the need.

Source: The New York Post, "Feds finally ready to recognize 9/11 cancer link," Michael Gartland, 9/9/12

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