It’s not only first responders who became sick due to the September 11th terrorist attack in lower Manhattan. Thousands of students, teachers and other people working or living in the area were also exposed to toxins from the Twin Towers. At a news conference in Chinatown yesterday, an attorney who has represented thousands of 9/11 victims, the United Federation of Teachers and community leaders helped to get the word out: Medical help is available.
During the event at the Confucius Plaza housing complex on the Bowery, attorney Michael Barasch said he’s now representing four teachers with breast cancer and nine former students who attended schools near Ground Zero. The students have a variety of illnesses, including cancer and lung diseases.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Barasch. “This is a growing and serious health epidemic and it is so important for anyone who lived, worked or spent time in that area to understand that if they are sick, there is a presumption that it was caused by their exposure to the World Trade Center toxins.”
Also in attendance yesterday were local elected officials, local district leaders Jenny Low and Justin Yu and Michael Mulgrew of the teachers’ union. They wanted to make sure everyone in lower Manhattan knows that they may be eligible for health care and compensation through the extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
The first in a series of 9/11 health forums will be held Saturday, Nov. 18 at P.S. 124, 40 Division St., 3-5 p.m. The event, which the Confucius Plaza Tenant Association is helping to sponsor, will offer information in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. The World Trade Center Health Program covers all of lower Manhattan below East Houston Street, as well as Brooklyn Heights. To find out if you’re eligible, have a look at this map. Barasch urged anyone experiencing health issues to get a checkup through the program.
Michele Lent Hirsch, now 32, is among those who became sick after 9/11. On September 11th, she was a student at Stuyvesant High School, located just a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center site. It wasn’t until 2010 that she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Hirsch told the New York Post, “Cancer is so terrifying to deal with when you’re a young person… They sent us back to a school that was not safe. We were exposed to toxins that were physically harmful. You don’t send students back to a toxic school before it’s safe.” Stuyvesant re-opened just a month after the attacks.
The United Federation of Teachers began its outreach at a dozen schools in the area and is now contacting parent-teacher associations to find former students who may have been downtown during and after 9/11. Officials said people are surprised to learn they may be eligible for medical help. There’s a common misperception that only first responders are covered.
Barasch represented James Zadroga, the NYPD detective who developed pulmonary fibrosis as a result of his exposure to toxins at the World Trade Center site. His death eventually prompted Congress to approve the Zadroga Act.