Michael Barasch’s law firm is just two blocks away from where the North Tower of the World Trade Center once stood. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, he and his business partner decided to keep their practice in the same office in the financial district. Barasch says it’s a decision that he and his colleagues have paid a price for.
“In the last 15 years, my secretary Lyanna had died at age 47 of breast cancer. My paralegal Dennis, also at 47, died of kidney cancer. I'm a prostate cancer survivor. My other secretary Barbara has lymphoma. Two other people in my office have skin cancer. These are all considered related to the toxic dust,” he says.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has linked 68 cancers to the World Trade Center toxins; airborne particles that came from the 400 million tons of debris that spread for miles after the Twin Towers collapsed.
Just days after 9/11, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assured the people of New York that the air around Ground Zero was safe to breathe. It turns out, it wasn’t.
“What did we do wrong?” asks Barasch. “All we did wrong was listen to the EPA. The fact is, they wanted to reopen Wall Street, and they did… We wanted to help the economy and get it going again, but we're paying a price.”
The Department of Justice reports that 4,500 people have died because of 9/11-related illnesses. That's more than the 2,977 people who were killed in the attacks.
Barasch represents 8,000 first responders and more than 15,000 others who have died or suffer from 9/11-related cancers and other health issues.
“Not a day goes by without one of my clients dying,” says Barasch. “9/11 didn’t end on 9/11.”
People afflicted with a 9/11-related disease are entitled to free lifetime medical care and other benefits from the federal Victim Compensation Fund. In 2019, Congress extended the fund through 2090, but Barasch says just a fraction of the people who are eligible actually take advantage of the fund and access what they are owed.
“The really heartbreaking thing is we fought so hard to get these bills permanently extended and fully funded, yet so many non-responders, the guys here in Wall Street, the guys at Goldman Sachs (GS), the American Stock Exchange, the New York Mercantile Exchange, the New York Stock Exchange, they don't know they are eligible,” he says. “Only 8% of the non-responders have enrolled in the health program, while over 80% of the firefighters and cops ever responded.”
In 2020, the fund was amended to include eligible COVID-related deaths.
“If they had COVID and they had an underlying respiratory condition or cancer related to 9/11 that compromised their immune system, then the Victim Compensation Fund will view that as a 9/11-related death,” Barasch explains.
So far this year, more than 100 of his clients from the 9/11 community have died from COVID.
“They're giving significant compensation,” says Barasch. “Two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the death, another $250,000 for an underlying cancer, and then if you were under 65, they'll give you lost income up till the age of 65. So this could really mean financial security for a family.”
Alexis Christoforous is an anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.