Sept. 13 (HealthDayNews) -- Nearly three years to the day of the 9/11
terrorist attacks, lawyers for more than 800 "Ground Zero" rescue and
clean-up workers announced Monday a billion-dollar class-action lawsuit
against owners of the World Trade Center for exposing the workers to
allegedly toxic conditions.
David E. Worby, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the class
action could potentially encompass hundreds of thousands of
individuals, all of whom lived or worked at or near the site in the
weeks and months following the Twin Towers' collapse.
"More people, unfortunately, will probably die from post-9/11 toxic
problems than died on 9/11," Worby told reporters at a press conference
held a block away from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. "These are our
new class of World Trade Center victims that need our new rescue and
The suit against Silverstein Properties and more than a dozen other
stakeholders in the World Trade Center property was formally filed on
Sept. 10 and seeks more than $1 billion in damages to set up a special
"medical testing fund" for what Worby described as "toxic exposures."
The suit also seeks an unspecified amount in "compensatory damages," he added.
In a response to the lawsuit, Silverstein spokesman Howard J.
Rubenstein said, "The rescue, recovery and cleanup of the World Trade
Center site was conducted completely under the auspices and control of
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the City of New
York. We had no control over that operation and no ability to supervise
what safety precautions were taken."
Worby said further claims are planned against New York City, the
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and the federal Occupational Safety & Health
Toxicologist William R. Sawyer, working on behalf of the plaintiffs,
conducted assessments of contaminant levels in numerous WTC rescue and
He described Ground Zero in the weeks after the attacks as "a giant
toxic waste site containing all of the necessary ingredients that, when
heated, or 'pyrolized,' made a smoldering, 100-foot-plus pile of toxic
material which generated unprecedented concentrations of carcinogens."
Contained in this "toxic waste pile," according to Sawyer and Worby, were:
- 200,000 pounds of lead from the estimated 50,000 personal computers in thousands of World Trade Center offices
- mercury contained in the towers' more than half a million fluorescent lights
- dioxin from oil and fuel
- 2,000 tons of asbestos
- benzene from more than 91,000 liters of burned jet fuel
- cadmium, PCBs, and up to 2 million pounds of toxins known as polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons.
All of these contaminants have strong links to pulmonary, skin or
immune system ailments, as well as cancer, Sawyer said. He predicted
that long-term cancer rates among clean-up workers could rise to five
to seven times the norm during the coming decades.
Under OSHA rules, Worby said, building management is required to
carry out expert assessments of air and environmental safety before
sending workers into any site deemed at risk. The lawyers representing
the workers said there was an "unnecessary rush" on behalf of the
owners and various government officials to send poorly protected
workers to Ground Zero.
"There was only one important thing to do after there was no more
rescue of human lives at that site," Worby said, "and that was [to
protect] the lives of everyone else, the health, safety and general
welfare of our police, our firemen. We let them down."
Worby charged that most rescue and cleanup workers at Ground Zero
were not given protective gear, or were given gear of dubious or
He also charged that the EPA "should've known from Day One what they
were looking at [at Ground Zero]." Instead, he said, agency officials
approved "this rush to clean up the worst toxic site in our history --
with no one having proper protection."
A dozen plaintiffs sat in on the press conference, among them New
York City Police Detective John Walcott, who worked for months at the
Trade Center site and the Staten Island Fresh Kills Landfill, which was
the ultimate destination for most of the Ground Zero debris.
Walcott has since been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia,
and has undergone chemotherapy and a failed stem cell transplant, he
said. Although his immune system has improved, Wolcott said he now
lives his life "by the hour."
He said the lawsuit was primarily designed to protect others,
through funding a decades-long medical testing initiative that might
catch toxin-related illnesses early.
"What happened to me happened so quickly," he said, "and we want to avoid that happening to anyone else."
Also in attendance was Eva Lanvoy, who said she cleaned debris from
elevators at 1 Liberty Plaza for two weeks after the attacks. Lanvoy
said she now suffers from a host of conditions, including asthma and
chronic gastritis. She lifted her arms to display blotchy
discolorations of skin, which her lawyers said occur "all over her
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
released a study showing that many Ground Zero recovery workers
suffered from respiratory problems long after the cleanup ended. Some
still struggle with problems that include asthma, sinusitis, constant
coughing, facial pains, chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of
breath, the Associated Press reported.
For more on the health consequences of the Twin Towers' collapse, visit the National Institutes of Health.