The money, part of an original $175 million package, had been allocated to help pay claims for workers' compensation. Only $50 million of that funding has been spent, in part because so many of the claims for compensation have been denied. The relevant appropriations bill for FY 2006, which may include a provision rescinding these funds, is scheduled for mark-up in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies on June 9. The advocates argued that, rather than taking away this $125 million for sick workers, Congress should allocate even more funds to meet the unmet health needs of people exposed to 9/11 pollution.
"This is not just about New York City," said Suzanne Mattei, New York City executive for the Sierra Club. "A terrorist attack could happen anywhere in the nation. Our government must address the needs of those who were on the front line of this attack and experienced toxic exposures. Failure to do so would set a terrible precedent and undermine confidence in government. The number of people exposed directly to toxic 9/11 pollution is staggering, and many of them are already sick."
Joel Shufro, executive director for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) urged that more funds are needed to address unmet health needs. He stated, "There are many workers who are sick as a result of the events of 9/11 who have not received the medical care and medicine that they desperately need. Not only is this money needed to provide for them, but there is a great need for government agencies to consider the extraordinary circumstances when making eligibility determinations for compensation."
Under normal circumstances, Shufro explained, an office worker who is sick after being exposed to a toxic chemical that is not normally in the office environment is not eligible for workers' compensation. Surely in this case, he argued, workers who are sick because of 9/11 contamination in the workplaces ought to receive workers' compensation benefits. Additionally, said Shufro, Congress should consider the health impacts on the community of residents who were exposed to contamination in their homes and neighborhoods.
"How can the administration belittle the impact of this attack on human health? The suggestion that this money should be withdrawn from sick workers is an outrage," said Kimberly Flynn from 9/11 Environmental Action, an organization of residents and parents concerned about the health effects of 9/11 pollution. "More than half of the workers examined for the 2004 WTC Worker and Volunteer Screening Program study – largely police officers, utility workers and construction workers – were found to be suffering from persistent severe breathing problems. Many who are too disabled to perform their jobs and turned to the workers' compensation system are now facing financial destitution. These men and women came to our rescue and our country owes them the help they need."
Citing information compiled in Sierra Club's 2004 report, Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero, Suzanne Mattei explained that at least 40,000 people were involved in rescue and recovery. Another 100,000 people work in the area, and some 34,000 people – including about 2,700 children under the age of 10 – live in the community that surrounds the attack site. "The overwhelming majority of those residents and area employees have never even been screened by an expert in environmental medicine," she added.