Trade Center Site Workers Plan to Sue over Respiratory Problems

New York, July 10, 2002 (Bloomberg News) — Crane operators and other recovery workers at the World Trade Center site filed notice of intent to sue the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, claiming their respiratory ailments were preventable. The workers, many of whom have coughs and other problems, “were not provided proper breathing equipment to protect their lungs” against asbestos, fiberglass, benzene and other toxins released during cleanup operations after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, said Greg Hach of Hach & Rose LLP in Manhattan, who represents about 50 workers. Port authority spokesman Steve Coleman declined to comment, saying agency attorneys haven’t reviewed the claims. The port authority owns the 16-acre trade center site. Similar notices of intent to sue have been filed on behalf of some victims’ families. Deadlines for trade center-related claims begin expiring today. New York State law governing the port authority requires people who might sue the agency to file a notice within 10 months from the date of an injury. A notice of intent is filed “to preserve the right to sue,” said Marc Moller, an attorney with the Kreindler & Kreindler law firm in Manhattan, which represents 200 families of victims who have filed notices. The families claim the port authority increased the danger with public-address announcements telling workers in the south tower to return to their desks after the north tower had collapsed, Moller said. The attack killed 2,823 people.

Some of the workers who spent months cleaning up the debris “are to the point of being disabled or can’t work anymore,” Hach said. Ralph Pascarella, 42, an operating engineer who spent 16 hours a day at the site, said he has experienced coughing and “a burning sensation in the chest and nose from the smoke and chemicals.” Fires stoked by jet fuel burned under the trade center rubble for three months. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air samples taken at the site showed elevated levels of cancer-causing toxins such as asbestos, benzene and fiberglass particles. The agency has said the levels were too low to be health risks for workers wearing proper respirators and other safety equipment. Many workers claimed they were given cloth masks, not respirators, in the early stages of recovery, Hach said. Day laborers in cleanup operations weren’t told about the health risks and often worked with little or no protection, said Dr. Ekatarina Malievskaia, who helped run a mobile medical station at the site in January and February. About 420 day laborers screened for respiratory problems at the station showed such symptoms as coughing, wheezing, fatigue, headaches and nausea, said Malievskaia, a coordinator for the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at the City University of New York’s Queens College campus. For most of the symptoms, “we think it was related to the nature of the dust these people were inhaling,” she said.

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