‘Your Turn to Step Up and Not Forget’ 9/11

This Monday comedian Jon Stewart and the advocates for hundreds of thousands of World Trade Center first responders and survivors will be in the nation’s capital to kick-off a national lobbying effort to get Congress to pass permanent funding for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

The VCF was set up along with the WTC Health Program for the estimated 90,000 first responders who served at the WTC site and were exposed to a deadly cocktail of airborne toxins during the response and recovery that went on for several months after the attack. Thousands of New Jersey first responders were also in this heroic mix.

Both programs are also available to the estimated 400,000 survivors who lived, worked or went to school in the lower Manhattan contaminated zone where dozens of city public schools continued to operate even as the toxic clean-up was completed.

Tens of thousands of New Jersey commuters, who worked on Wall Street or at other addresses south of Canal Street, were exposed to the toxic mix that’s been linked to dozens of cancers.

The “Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act” would cover potential shortfalls in funding for the VCF as of the 2020 deadline and permanently authorize it.

By some estimates we are at the point where as many people have died from diseases linked to their WTC environmental exposure than the almost 3,000 that died that day, including close to 700 New Jersey residents.

Projecting the actual long-term liability for the VCF is problematic because fewer than 20,000 of the 400,000 survivor population have been screened whereas close to 90 percent of the first responders have been. WTC advocates note, that in the years since an unknown number of survivors may have succumb to a WTC condition and never had known of the linkage in their lifetime.

At a Feb. 22 press conference, Gerard Fitzgerald, the president of New York City’s Uniformed Firefighters Association, said that the Federal government had an additional moral obligation to fully fund the VCF because it was former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, as head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, that with in days of the attack erroneously said the air in lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.

“She did make that comment so that affected us, it affected the civilian population and the other first responders and the children that were in that neighborhood and people that had apartments below Canal Street that were living there and were able to breathe that toxic air.”

Fitzgerald told reporters that the human toll on his rank and file from the WTC toxic fallout continued to mount. The FDNY, which lost 343 the day of the attack has now lost close to 200 Firefighters and Fire Officers to WTC related cancers and other diseases. Union officials estimate another 6,500 active and retired FDNY personnel continue to battle a certified WTC condition including cancer—roughly more than half of the 11,000 FDNY connected personnel that served at the site. 

“With every passing day in the near 18-years since Sept. 11 2001 these terrorists are still attacking our fist responders and claiming victims,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “These are not normal disabilities and illnesses that often lead to an untimely deaths that leave children with out fathers, parents without their sons fending for themselves financially. The Victims Compensation Fund provides stability for these families.”

In the current partisan political climate its hard for the advocates for any cause, no matter how worthy, to break through and command the attention that their cause merits. For 9/11 first responders and survivors it is especially difficult because the world generally perceives 9/11 as a discrete event, an attack that killed 2,966. 

There’s little awareness that 9/11 has continued to claim thousands of lives. It’s more like an invisible Chernobyl . Yet, if you go to the site of the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan and engage any of the visitors from around the nation and the world they will confess they haven’t a clue.

“Every Sept. 11 just about every politician tweets out or sends out some sort of ‘never forget 9/11’ [message],” Fitzgerald told reporters. “Now, it’s your turn to step up and not to forget that day.”

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